The remains of a high-caste man wearing armor who was buried by hot ash — possibly as he tried to calm the wrath of an erupting volcano — have been found in an area known as the “Pompeii of Japan.”
Archeologists say they have unearthed the well-preserved body of a sixth-century man who had apparently turned to face a flow of molten rock as it gushed through his settlement.
“Under normal circumstances, you would flee if pyroclastic flows are rushing toward you and bringing waves of heat, but this person died facing it,” said Shinichiro Ohki, of Gunma Archeological Research Foundation.
“Maybe, if he were someone of a high position, he might have been praying, or doing something in the direction of the volcano and attempting to appease its anger,” Ohki told reporters on Monday.
The remains, along with a part of an infant’s skull, were found in the Kanai Higashiura dig in Gunma Prefecture, roughly 110km northwest of Tokyo, at the site of the volcanic Mount Haruna.
The find comes from an area known to enthusiasts as the “Pompeii of Japan,” a reference to the Roman city buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.
The body is clad in a relatively sophisticated kind of armor made by craftsmen who bound small iron plates with thin leather strips, which would have represented the latest technological import at the time.
It may have been brought to Japan after the practice of horse riding was introduced in the late fifth century, Ohki said, adding that the armor was much more sophisticated than the single-plate type common in the period.
“It indicates the person wearing it was someone of a high position, like a regional leader,” Ohki said, adding that studies would be carried out to see if the man was related to occupants of ancient tombs dotting the region.
Archeologists will also examine the bones to determine whether the man and the child were related.
“If possible, we would like to study their DNA. Were they related? Why and how did they die there?” Ohki said.