East Asia, Japan, Kofun Period, ca. 250 to 538 CE. An elegant necklace composed of approximately 120 cobalt blue stone seed beads, four larger, almost black, blue round beads, and, in its center, a gorgeous apple-green quartz magatama ("sacred jewel"). Magatama are comma-shaped carvings with holes drilled laterally through their widest parts to form a pendant. The green has complexity and depth. Size: 23" L x 0.75" W x 1.5" H (58.4 cm x 1.9 cm x 3.8 cm); size of magatama: 1.25" W x 0.25" H (3.2 cm x 0.6 cm))
The reason for the comma-shaped form of the magatama is unknown, but there are several suggestions from researchers: the shape of animal fangs, for example, or the shape of a crescent moon. These forms are referenced in Japanese 8th century literature as gifts given by the gods to one another. Magatama from this period were owned as noble regalia by the chieftainships that controlled small areas of Kofun Japan, and they are often found in mounded tumulus graves, which modern researchers have interpreted to be offerings to the gods. They were replaced in the public consciousness by Buddhist prayer beads in the Nara period, and represent an earlier period of religious worship than Buddhism in Japan. The Kofun period was when the foundations of feudal Japan were laid, and the Shinto religion, with its ritual practices and multitudinous nature gods, was celebrated as a unifying and uniquely Japanese practice.
Provenance: private Illinois, USA collection
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