Washington, April 29 : A fifth century imperial tomb in Japan has been opened for the first time to scholars.
According to a report in National Geographic News, a group of 16 experts were led by the Japanese Archaeological Association for a visit inside the Gosashi tomb, which is the first time that scholars had been allowed inside a royal tomb outside of an official excavation led by Japan's Imperial Household Agency.
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.
"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.
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.
The archaeologists weren't allowed to excavate, but they did find previously unknown terra cotta haniwa figures on the tomb's eastern side. These funerary statues were believed to help tend to the elite after death.
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.
In addition to overseeing Jingu's tomb, the Imperial Household Agency looks after some 896 sites said to contain the remains of imperial family members.
Of those, around 70 are kofun tombs dating to before the seventh century. These keyhole-shaped mounds surrounded by moats are some of the largest and most historically important burial sites in Japan.