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Ancient Roman jewellery found in fifth century burial site in Japan

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Treasure: Pieces of glass jewellery believed to have been made by Roman craftsmen were discovered in a 5th century burial ground in Kyoto, western Japan

Glass jewellery believed to have been made by Roman craftsmen has been found in an ancient tomb in Japan.

In a sign the empire’s influence may have reached the edge of Asia, three glass beads discovered in the 5th Century ‘Utsukushi’ burial mound in Nagaoka, near Kyoto, were probably made some time between the first and the 4th century.

The government-backed Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties has recently finished analysing components of the glass beads, measuring five millimetres (0.2 inches) in diameter, with tiny fragments of gilt attached.

It found that the light yellow beads were made with natron, a chemical used to melt glass by craftsmen in the empire, which succeeded the Roman Republic in 27 BC and was ultimately ended by the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.

The beads, which have a hole through the middle, were made with a multilayering technique – a relatively sophisticated method in which craftsmen piled up layers of glass, often sandwiching gold leaf in between.

‘They are one of the oldest multilayered glass products found in Japan, and very rare accessories that were believed to be made in the Roman Empire and sent to Japan,’ said Tomomi Tamura, a researcher at the institute.

The Roman Empire was concentrated around the Mediterranean Sea and stretched northwards to occupy England. The finding in Japan, some 6,000 miles from Italy, may shed some light on how far east its influence reached, said Tamura.

She added: ‘It will also lead to further studies on how they could have got all the way to Japan.’

The growing Roman empire: Map showing the 6,000 route from Italy to Japan


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  • Quay

    Looks like a donut…

  • Lewis Thomason

    The Romans and Chinese traded with each other for centuries so it should be no surprise that some Roman goods found their way to japan.

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