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14C Dating Human Skeletons from Medieval Archaelogical Sites in Kamakura, Japan: Were They Victims of Nitta Yoshisada’s Attack?

M Minami, T Nakamura, T Nagaoka, K Hirata


We investigated the radiocarbon ages and carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios of human skeletal remains from burials at the Yuigahama-minami and Chusei-Shudan-Bochi sites in the Yuigahama area (Kamakura, Japan), which we believe are associated with the great attack on Kamakura by Nitta Yoshisada in AD 1333. The human bones produced enriched δ13C and δ15N values that could be affected by consumption of protein from marine fish and/or mammals with high δ13C and δ15N, and therefore older apparent 14C ages. We thus estimated the marine reservoir effect on human skeletons to determine their true ages. The IsoSource isotope mixing model was employed for reconstructing percentages of marine protein in the human diet, and calibrated calendar dates for the 14C ages were calculated using the marine percentages. At the Yuigahama-minami site, most skeletons from individual burials now date to the last phase of the Kamakura period or the early part of the Muromachi period, while skeletons from mixed human-animal multiple burials date to the latter part of the Kamakura period. The humans from the individual burials, consisting of normal ratios of adult males, could have died a natural death, though the site could also have been used to inter victims of the battle of 1333. The humans from mixed human-animal burials, consisting of a high proportion of infants, were not victims of the 1333 battle, but the site may have been used to inter victims of the Kamakura earthquake in 1293, which resulted in a catastrophic tsunami. On the other hand, the skeletons from multiple burials in the Chusei-Shudan-Bochi site all date to the middle Kamakura period. Coupled with the fact that most humans in the site are male but show no evidence of injuries by sword cuts, it is likely that burials of the Chusei-Shudan-Bochi site could have been a collective interment following the Jinji earthquake in 1241, the Shoka earthquake in 1257, or the Shoka famine in 1258 in the middle Kamakura period. The results of this study indicate that humans from burials in the Yuigahama region were not necessarily victims of the attack by Nitta Yoshisada on Kamakura, but instead were likely victims of natural disasters such as large earthquakes and severe famines, which often occurred in the middle Kamakura period.

DOI: 10.2458/azu_js_rc.v54i3–4.16391

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