for National Geographic News
A rare visit by archaeologists to a fifth-century imperial tomb offers hope that other closely guarded graves in Japan might soon be open to independent study.
This month a group of 16 experts led by the Japanese Archaeological Association released results from their February visit inside Gosashi tomb.
The event marked the first time that scholars had been allowed inside a royal tomb outside of an official excavation led by Japan's Imperial Household Agency.
Archaeologists have been requesting access to Gosashi tomb and other imperial sites since 1976, in part because the tombs date to the founding of a central Japanese state under imperial rule.
But the agency has kept access to the tombs restricted, prompting rumors that officials fear excavation would reveal bloodline links between the "pure" imperial family and Korea—or that some tombs hold no royal remains at all.
Although the team's visit didn't lay any of those issues to rest, experts celebrated it as a first step toward expanded access to the mysterious tombs.
(Related: "Stonehenge Didn't Stand Alone, Excavations Show" [January 12, 2007].)
"The main achievement of the occasion was that for the first time we could enter to do [our own] research," said Koji Takahashi, a Toyama University archaeologist and spokesperson for the group.
Gosashi tomb in western Japan's Nara Prefecture is revered as the resting place of Empress Jingu, the semi-legendary wife of the country's 14th emperor.
Jingu is thought to have ruled as regent for her son starting around A.D. 200.
During their two-and-a-half-hour visit, the team was allowed to explore the lower part of the 886-foot-long (270-meter-long) burial mound.
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