Luke Edgington-Brown

William Gowland in context: Japanese kofun archaeology at the British Museum

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

My research focuses on the collection and archive of William Gowland (1842-1922), in order to place it within its context as a historical and an archaeology assemblage.

Start Date: October 2012
End Date: October 2016
Theme: What objects can reveal about the social, cultural, religious, creative and political history of their makers, users, owners, depositors and collectors
Research discipline: Archaeology
Locations: East Asia, UK
Staff member: Nicole Rousmaniere
Department: Department of Asia
University and department: , Centre for Japanese studies. Sainsbury institute for the study of Japanese arts and cultures (SISJAC), University of East Anglia (UEA)
University supervisor: Simon Kaner
Other funders: Saïd Business School Foundation DPhil Scholarship

Why are Gowland’s surveys and excavation important?

Several of the tombs Gowland viewed no longer exist. Few tombs from this period survive with their contents intact, and very few excavations were produced with such a level of detail in the late 19th century.

What were Gowland’s interests in Japanese archaeology?

Gowland clearly had an interest in elite burial, but also showed an interest in production, being the first person to describe a Kofun period kiln site. He also explored the relationship between early Japan and Korea through ceramic technology.

How did production effect elite identify?

The Kofun elite were involved with warfare with the Korean kingdoms in the late 4th century. Exposing them to new forms of material culture. The production of which was monopolised by the central elite, in the 5th century to create new elite identities.

About my research

The Gowland collection is the most comprehensive collection of Kofun period (250-645AD) artefacts outside of Japan. It includes the inventory of an early 6th century tomb, Shibayama Kofun Osaka, excavated by William Gowland in 1887.

Gowland was employed as a foreign specialist at the Osaka mint for sixteen years, between 1872 and 1888. During his stay he developed an interest in archaeology and visited over 400 ancient tombs, surveyed over 100 and produced one complete excavation report, which went unpublished. Upon his return to England, Augustus Franks of the British Museum purchased the collection, where it remains today.

My PhD is part of a larger project, stared in order to properly utilise the Gowland collection. In conjunction with the British Museum, the Sainsbury institute for the study of Japanese arts and cultures (SISJAC) and an annual survey by Japanese researchers, lead by Professor Ichinose Kazuo (Kyoto Tachibana University), since 2009.

Aims of my research

The collection now held in the British Museum consists of over 900 objects and a large archive of Gowland’s unpublished materials regarding his research in Japan. I aim to produce an in depth survey of Gowland’s archive, linking it to his collection.

In exploring Gowland’s interests in Kofun period production and burial sites, my research aims to build upon this by applying modern archaeological research. In order to see how production affected elite identity in the 5th to 6th centuries.

This archive also gives a unique opportunity to reconstruct an unpublished excavation which occurred over one hundred years ago, only made possible by the early scientific approach which Gowland had developed in Japan. This has further historical significance as the techniques Gowland employed at Shibayama would go on to inform his excavation at Stonehenge in 1901. The first scientific excavation of the site and a historic benchmark for British Archaeology.


16 January 2015, Kyoto University. William Gowland: influence in archaeology.

July 2012, Research group investing the effect of the 3/11 disaster on heritage.