Explore / Articles
William Gowland (1842-1927)
Professor William Gowland was one of the many foreign advisers who went to Japan early in the Meiji era (1868-1912). He was a chemist and metallurgist and worked at the Mint during his stay in Japan from 1872 to 1879. As an educated young man, he had wide interests, and soon became involved in archaeology. He investigated 406 tombs of the Kofun period (about 300 - mid-6th century AD), and surveyed 140. Many of the tombs he visited had already been robbed and so contained very few grave-goods. In one he mentions 'a small glass bead and a quantity of vermilion'.
However, one of his excavations was of special significance: the Shibayama dolmen on the east slope of Ikoma Mountain to the south of Osaka, which had remained untouched since the sixth century. The burial chamber contained fragments of a pine-wood coffin mingled with some personal ornaments of metal and beads made of glass and jasper. Inside the tomb there were also two swords, one in pieces, a dagger, arrowheads made of iron, horse-trappings and a large number of beads. The beads were of various kinds, including spherical beads of blue glass and stone. Other tubular beads made of green stone had been strung on a necklace with magatama (comma-shaped stone jewels). There were also three magatama made respectively of chalcedony, rock-crystal and steatite. The tomb also contained a number of Sue ware pots.
Gowland also visited the important Rokuya dolmen in Tamba Province. He acquired there two gilded horse-bits and other fragments of harness as well as an iron sword, beads and pottery. As a metallurgist, Gowland used his specialism to make important analyses of the metal objects that he found. In the absence of written records from the Kofun period, Gowland's pioneering research, and the work of succeeding archaeologists have provided much of our information about the culture of the time.