Ancient Japan may have been far more cosmopolitan than previously thought, archaeologists said Wednesday, pointing to fresh evidence of a Persian official working in the former capital of Nara more than 1,000 years ago.
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Present-day Iran and Japan were known to have had direct trade links since at least the 7th century, but new testing on a piece of wood — first discovered in the ’60s — suggest broader ties, the researchers said.
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Infrared imaging revealed previously unreadable characters on the wood — a standard writing surface in Japan before paper — that named a Persian official living in the country.
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Where government officials were trained the official worked at a school, said a research worker at the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Akihiro Watanabe.
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The official may have been educating math, Watanabe added, pointing to early Iran’s expertise in the area.
This is the very first time a man as far away as Persia was understood to have worked in Japan,” he said Although earlier studies have indicated there were exchanges with Persia as early as the 7th century.
“And this implies Nara was a cosmopolitan city where foreigners were handled equally.”
Nara was the capital of Japan known as Heijokyo from around 710 to around 784 before it was transferred to Kyoto and after to present day Tokyo.
The discovery comes after another team of research workers last month unearthed early Roman coins in Okinawa Prefecture at the ruins of an old fortress.
It was the first time from where they were probably minted coins from the powerful empire have been found in Japan, thousands of kilometers.