Pair of Gold Earrings


Pair of Gold Earrings

Archaeology / Kofun / Kumamoto

出土地:熊本県和水町 江田船山古墳出土

Kofun period, 5th-6th century



National Treasure

These sets of earrings come from the Eta Funayama Tumulus in Kumamoto prefecture. This keyhole-shaped burial mound is located near the middle reaches of Kikuchi river. It is thought to have been constructed in the latter half of the fifth century or early sixth century. A set of exquisite burial goods was excavated there in 1873. These included weapons and military gear like swords and armor, a gilt-bronze headdress and a pair of gilt-bronze shoes, gold earrings, jewels and other ornaments, six bronze mirrors, horse trappings, and Sue stoneware. This set has been designated a National Treasure.

These earrings are somewhat large, though the designs still seem stylish today. One pair is made of pure gold and it features double-layered, heart-shaped decorations. The two layers probably radiate sunlight and produce a lovely, delicate sound when shaken together. The other pair features a design of three dangling chains. The chains are threaded with several beads and one chain is tipped with a blue, glass bead. When jangled, this pair probably sparkles dynamically while producing a pleasant chime. Though the overall structure is gold, the blackish areas are actually silver.

These designs are not found in any other contemporaneous Japanese artifacts. However, similar heart-shaped earrings have been excavated from the tomb of King Muryeong of Baekje, an ancient kingdom on the Korean peninsula. Furthermore, similar earrings with chains have been excavated in the Goryeong region, also on the Korean peninsula. This reveals how powerful clans in Kumamoto traded directly with Baekje and Goryeong.

Glittering gold adornments were popular among these clans in the sixth century. These earrings were produced in the latter half of the fifth century or early sixth century, so they would have stood at the forefront of this trend. The wearers must have worn these pioneering, radiant items to flaunt their relations with other distant nations.

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