Hoe-shaped Stone Bracelet
During the Kofun period, which began in the 3rd century, stone implements began to be produced for ritual purposes. This work is a stone artifact in the shape of a bracelet. It is called a “hoe-shaped stone” because its shape resembles a hoe for tilling soil, but it was actually carved in imitation of a bracelet made from a shell. Powerful figures in northern Kyushu prized bracelets made from shells fished off southern islands, such as Okinawa and Amami Oshima, since the Yayoi period, which preceded the Kofun period. Served as symbols of authority, these bracelets were made by cutting round slices from spiral shells roughly 20 cm across, which belonged to a species of large sea snail. Later, in the Kofun period, the rulers of Yamato, which was the center of political power, reproduced the distinctive shape of these shell bracelets in jasper and distributed them to the rulers of various regions. Jasper is a hard, dark-green stone that becomes glossy and lustrous when polished.
Stone bracelets, like this piece, however, were not made to be worn, but to be interred in burial mounds as grave goods. The reason that powerful figures in northern Kyushu wore shell bracelets may have been a belief that people went to the southern seas after death. Bracelets made from shells fished in those seas likely held a special significance for them. The rulers of Yamato may have inherited this belief by emulating the shell bracelets.