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An old peach pit. Are the thousands of peach pits found in Japan the remains of fruit eaten in a lost kingdom?

Peach Pits, Peach Boy and the Lost Kingdom of a Shaman Queen

Thousands of peach pits have been found at a Japanese archaeological site. It seems there is more to the story than simply a fondness for the fruit - sources suggest that the ancient peaches were probably used in a ritual, perhaps at the site of a lost kingdom once ruled by a shaman queen.

The Asahi Shimbun reports that 2,800 peach pits were unearthed at the Makimuku archaeological site of Sakurai City in Japan. Although the information is only being released now, the peach pits were found in 2010 about five meters (16.4 ft.) south of the ruins of a building and have only recently been dated to between 135 to 230 AD.

Other artifacts were also found along with the peach pits, such as fragments of pottery and baskets, animal bones, and other plant remains. The researchers studying the site believe the objects were buried following rituals.

Ancient peach pits found at the Makimuku archeological site in Sakurai, Nara Prefecture. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Ancient peach pits found at the Makimuku archeological site in Sakurai, Nara Prefecture. ( Asahi Shimbun file photo )

The Significance of Peaches

Peaches are more than just a fruit, they hold a symbolic significance in Japanese culture. Stories such as ‘ Kojiki suggest that peaches can ward of evil spirits and a very popular traditional tale in Japan is Momotarō (Peach Boy).

Momotarō begins with a childless elderly couple encountering a huge peach which cracked open and contained a baby boy. They named him Momotarō and were very happy. However, when Momotarō was 15 years old he told his parents he was leaving home to help humanity. He decided to go to battle evil demons on an island. In his travels, the peach boy met and befriended a talking dog, talking monkey, and talking pheasant. The group successfully completed Momotarō’s goal and then returned to his parents’ home with treasure.

Along with traditional stories, peaches and peach blossoms are associated in Japan with females and feminine traits such as gentility, composure, and tranquility. There is even a festival called Momo-no-sekku (Momo meaning “peach” and sekku “seasonal”). This celebration traditionally is meant to wish for the health and growth of young girls.

Illustration from Momotaro, of Little Peachling, published in 1885. (Public Domain)

Illustration from Momotaro, of Little Peachling, published in 1885. ( Public Domain)

Makimuku and the Lost Kingdom of Yamataikoku

For some time, the Makimuku archaeological site and surrounding area have been linked to the lost kingdom of Yamataikoku . In 2014, Hironobu Ishino, director of the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Archaeology said:

"The latest finding virtually confirms that buildings stood in a regular geometry along the central axis of a quadrangular area stretching 150 meters from east to west. That is an extraordinary dimension for third-century artifacts. It now appears ever more likely that the site represents the residential area of the two queens of the Yamatai state, Himiko and her successor, Toyo, who are mentioned in an official chronicle of China."

Queen Himiko is not actually mentioned in Japanese sources; instead she is known through a Chinese historical text compiled around 290 AD. Called ‘Records of the Three Kingdoms’, this text is regarded as one of the most reliable of the Chinese dynastic histories. She is known as the ‘shaman queen’ because some say Himiko used a magic mirror and burnt oracle bones for divination.

‘Himiko, Queen of Yamataikoku.’ (CC BY SA 4.0)

‘Himiko, Queen of Yamataikoku.’ ( CC BY SA 4.0 )

Scholars have been debating the location of Himiko’s kingdom for a long time. There are two main beliefs: that Yamataikoku was either on Kyushu island, or that the kingdom existed in the Kinki region, where Makimuku and the Nara Prefecture are located.

The Makimuku archaeological site measures approximately 2 kms (1.24 miles) by 1.5 km (0.93 miles). Apart from the peach pits and artifacts, the ruins contain buildings and ancient burial mounds, including what some people call Himiko’s tomb, a 280-meter (306-yard) structure called the Hashihaka.

Pottery from the Makimuku archaeological site. (CC BY SA 3.0)

Pottery from the Makimuku archaeological site. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

The peach pits found at Makimuku were dated through radiocarbon dating using accelerator mass spectrometry and the results support the notion that they were buried while Himiko was queen. The question whether Himiko was the queen ruling over the land where the peaches were buried is still up for debate. 

Top Image: Illustration from Momotaro, of Little Peachling, published in 1885. ( Public Domain )/ ‘Himiko, Queen of Yamataikoku.’ ( CC BY SA 4.0 )

By Alicia McDermott

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