Photo/Illutration The stone coffin grave at the Yoshinogari Ruins in Saga Prefecture after the lids were removed on June 5 (Soichiro Yamamoto)

YOSHINOGARI, Saga Prefecture--The lids of a stone coffin that may contain the remains of a powerful person from the latter part of the Yayoi Period (c. 1000 B.C.-250 A.D.) were lifted here on June 5.

The inside of the coffin was covered with soil, which will later be carefully removed to reveal what exactly is inside, officials said. Red pigment was discovered in the upper part of the soil, they added.

The stone coffin was recently unearthed at the Yoshinogari Ruins located in Kanzaki and Yoshinogari town, both in Saga Prefecture.

Four lids had closed the coffin, and three of them were lifted on June 5.

Linear shapes were found inscribed on the surface of two of the three stone lids. On June 5, officials discovered that the third lid actually had linear shapes on its reverse side.

The task to lift the stone lids started at 10 a.m. Officials put two bands around the lids and carefully lifted them one by one with a power shovel.

After the work, Takashi Shirakihara, director of the Saga prefectural government’s cultural property protection and utilization department, spoke about the coffin to reporters.

He noted that the stone coffin was located on a hill with a good view, and that the grave pit was noticeably large.

Because of these factors, researchers believe someone significant was buried there.

“We thought that the grave was for someone in power, and we still think so,” Shirakihara said. “As the coffin is filled with soil at the moment, we don’t know if it contains burial accessories, but we are hopeful.”

He also pointed out that in the Yayoi Period, red pigment was used for graves of influential people.

The insides of jar coffins found in the North Tumulus in the Yoshinogari Ruins were painted red, Shirakihara said. The jar coffins contained burial accessories, such as copper swords with handles.

“Not everyone’s coffin was painted red inside. So (the red pigment found in the stone coffin) gave us a hint as to the rank of the person who was buried in the coffin,” he said.

The stone coffin is around 1.92 meters long and about 40 centimeters wide, Shirakihara said. The lids were placed on the side panels of the coffin apparently while it was underground.

Officials said white clay was used to seal the gap between the lids and the side panels to prevent mud from entering.

The site of the Yoshinogari Ruins was a settlement that lasted throughout the Yayoi Period, researchers said.

The biggest mystery about the site has been the lack of graves of people in power from the latter half of the second century to the mid-third century.

During this latter part of the Yayoi Period, the Yamatai state existed, and a large, moated settlement was created in the Yoshinogari site.

“The peak period of the Yoshinogari site was the latter part of the Yayoi Period,” Shirakihara said. “A grave of someone who was in power during that period is important. If the grave is from an era of the Yamatai state, it might stir further debate about the state.”

Tadaaki Shichida, a former Saga prefectural government official who was responsible for excavation work of the large, moated settlement in 1989, was at the site on June 5.

“This reminds me of 30-odd years ago,” Shichida, now director of the Saga Castle History Museum, said of excitement and interest at the site. “I hope that we will have good results.”

(This article was written by Katsumi Mitsugi and Satoshi Juyanagi.)