Monday, July 16, 2012

Burying the bell


Dotaku are bronze bells cast during the Yayoi period of ancient Japan, which lasted from about 300 BC to 300 AD.  Around 470 dotaku have so far been discovered by archaeologists, and what is interesting is where most of them were found.  Because these bells were buried in the earth.  And it wasn't for funerary purposes, as you might expect.  The bells weren't buried near bodies.  Dotaku were often placed in the earth on remote mountain slopes, away from villages.  They were buried sometimes singly, sometimes in pairs, and sometimes in larger groups.  And no one today is really sure why.  Because they are bells, and they were produced to be functional.  You might expect a bell to be hanging somewhere for use, rather than buried in the ground.  So why?

One theory is that dotaku were associated with agricultural rites, and were returned to the earth (dotaku were usually cast from clay molds) as some sort of offering to the spirits.  Or maybe they were hidden out of fear they would be stolen.  My own idea is that there was a belief in the maturation of a bell's sound.  I think that dotaku may have been buried in the earth, sort of recast in a way, so that through their ageing they might develop the capacity for a more subtle and nuanced ring. 

Sounds improbable, right?  Except that that is what we do with wine, and most people agree that with wine it rings true.

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