Beach has long since pioneered the wrong place, wrong time tags that set out examples of artifacts, languages, ideas and even DNA turning up in unexpected places or unexpected time periods. These have included such wonders as the last Latin speakers of Africa, Japanese torpedo boats in the Baltic and Turkish in medieval Cambodia. Today he wanted to push the boat out a little further with a recent report on Roman finds from Japan.
Tests have revealed three glass beads discovered in the fifth-century ‘Utsukushi’ burial mound in Nagaoka, near Kyoto, were probably made some time between the first and the fourth century, the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties said.
The glass beads in question – reports differ but there seem to be three – do look Roman – note the tell-tale gilt, but they are only 5mm in length. And, as Beach has learnt to his peril, in archaeology as in linguistics, small things are more easily mistaken than bigger things. The Japanese scientists have claimed – in press releases, no academic publications have yet emerged – that their evidence is also chemical.
Japan was badly burnt in 2000 by the archaeological forgeries associated with Shinichi Fujimura. It is unlikely, after that fiasco, that as august a body as the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties would have lightly announced such a discovery. Then again as always with these ‘far-out’ stories, if the glass turns out to have been made by, say, some talented craftsmen in Korea there will be no correction in the international press… So if you are reading this in 2013 go out and hunt down the academic work and see what the real deal is.
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