Archaeologists in the town of Umi in Fukuoka prefecture have excavated a piece of earthenware shaped as the head of a creature with googly eyes and a big grin. Opinions are divided about whether this artifact, which was unearthed from a site dating back to the Muromachi period (1336 to 1573 AD), is supposed to represent the head of a demon, dragon, snake or kappa.
Kappa are mythical (or real, according to some) creatures that live in Japanese rivers and ponds. Known as pranksters, kappa are notorious for luring people (particularly small children) into water and drowning them. They also like to eat cucumbers. Some theories suggest that the word kappa comes from the Portuguese capa, which refers to the "robe" worn by Portuguese monks who came to Japan in the 16th century. The kappa's hairstyle also resembles the tonsured hair of the monks. (Further reading: Wikipedia entry for kappa.)
The artifact, which is now on display at Umi Museum, measures 5.4 cm (2 in.) tall and is believed to be one of the feet of a larger earthenware vessel. It appears that a sharp bamboo implement was used to shape the eyes and mouth.
"If this is a kappa," says museum director Koji Hiranouchi, "it is a very old representation. The craftsman was probably playing around when he made it."
Others believe the artifact is supposed to represent some sort of reptile or amphibian.
If you ever decide to keep a kappa as a pet, check out the indispensable Kappa no Kaikata (How to Raise a Kappa), a 26-part series of animated shorts on Animax, with English subtitles (viewable on YouTube). These videos will help you avoid some of the pitfalls of raising a kappa. For example, the first episode shows the disastrous effects of what happens when you feed kappa-maki (cucumber sushi rolls) to your kappa. Evidently, wasabi disagrees with its digestive system.
A giant jaguar relief over 2.8 meters in height was unearthed from the remains of a temple at Huaca Partida in Northern Peru. The temple dates from about 750 BC.
Yoshida and the jaguar relief
The team of archaeologists that made the discovery is led by Koichiro Toshida, 33, an Andean archaeology research fellow with the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. "This is the largest known relief from the ancient Andean civilization, whose ruins commonly feature depictions of animals," Toshida says. The discovery may come to be regarded as a key to unraveling the mysterious origins of Andean civilization.
The Huaca Partida ruins are located on the coast about 400 kilometers north of Lima, the capital of Peru. The temple where the relief was discovered stretches more than 25 meters from north to south, and is over 9 meters in height. The temple consists of a three-tiered platform, on top of which is a cloister and a courtyard adorned with eight columns. Two jaguar reliefs were discovered on the south face of the uppermost platform, and the one on the west side was extremely well preserved. The jaguar relief features a head 1.6 meters in height and a maximum engraving depth of approximately 50 centimeters.
The ancient civilizations of Central and South America revered the jaguar as a symbol of royalty and supernatural power. The jaguar motif of this discovery is consistent with other mythological depictions.
According to Yoshio Onuki, Tokyo University professor emeritus and expert in ancient Andean civilization, "The discovery of a temple in a coastal area that features this degree of embellishment is highly unusual. This discovery calls for a review of the relationship between ruins in mountainous areas and ruins in coastal areas, and will help in understanding how ancient Andean civilization originated."