Kitora Tomb

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The Kitora Tomb
Rear view of building that houses the Kitora Tomb

The Kitora Tomb (キトラ古墳 Kitora Kofun?) is an ancient tumulus (kofun in Japanese) located in the village of Asuka, Nara Prefecture, Japan. The tomb is believed to have been constructed some time between the 7th and early 8th centuries, but was only discovered in 1983.

A small stone chamber, the Kitora Tomb is a little over 1 metre in height and width and about 2.4 metres long, just large enough to bury a single person. The four walls are aligned with the cardinal points of the compass, and respectively feature the Black Tortoise of the North, the Azure Dragon of the East, the Red Bird of the South, and the White Tiger of the West. On the ceiling of the chamber there is also a star chart that has been the focus of much research and debate by scholars in the field of archaeoastronomy. In addition, the zodiac animals-headed figures with human body are painted on the wall, which may be one of the oldest remaining zodiac murals in East Asia.

Fragments of a lacquered wooden coffin, torn apart when the tomb was robbed, lay 5 cm thick on the chamber floor, mixed with grave goods and human bone. A gilded bronze fitting and sword decorations were discovered, both executed with superbly inlaid patterns. Based upon analysis of the bone fragments and items found in the tomb, it is believed the interred was a middle-aged or older male of aristocratic background.

The paintings have suffered the ravages of time, and, as important National Cultural Assets of Japan and World Heritage listed treasures, their preservation has been accorded the highest priority. The entire tomb has been roofed over, and a series of adjoining antechambers was constructed to isolate the central chamber from temperature and humidity fluctuations, and prevent contamination by airborne mold spores and microorganisms.

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