GIS uncovers mystery of Japan”s ancient ”Kofun” burial mounds

GIS uncovers mystery of Japan”s ancient ”Kofun” burial mounds


Japan: Professor Izumi Niiro, an archaeologist has used GIS technology to accurately survey Japanese burial mounds or ”Kofun” built between the third to seventh centuries. “I first became aware of geographic information systems during a sabbatical at Southampton University in 1991,” explains Professor Niiro. “I decided to experiment with this technology for archaeological surveying when I returned to Japan. It enabled me to visualise and analyse many types of geographical information such as topographic details of maps.”

Findings by Professor Niiro include visualisation of a bronze mirror from the early Kofun Period, third century. “I wrote my own software to visualise the surface of the mirror based on 3D scan information,” explains Professor Niiro. “Our results clearly show a triangular-rimmed mirror that is decorated with deities and beasts.”

Japan has many Kofun sites. The largest site in Okayama and the fourth largest in Japan is the Tsukuriyama Kofun — the burial mound of the king of the ”Kibi” completed in the fifth century. The tomb consists of the main Tsukuriyama burial mound and six smaller structures to the south. The dimensions of the Tsukuriyama Kofun are: length-350m, key-hole diameter-200m, height-31 m, and front length-215m. “Our analysis shows that it was built using very precise procedures using Chinese ”shaku” units of length,” says Professor Niiro. “One shaku is 232 mm.”

Initially Professor Niiro started by using IDRISI from Clark University. “These days I use GRASS (Geographic Resources Analysis Support System) open source system software,” says Professor Niiro. “The data analysis was initially done using the Perl programming language, but these days I use Python.” Professor Niiro confides that there are very few archaeologists in Japan, if any, who produce their own software programs to analyse geographic information.

Source: Science daily