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Swords, Cutting and Military History

Forensics of Kamakura battle remains 1333

Forensics of Kamakura battle remains 1333
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In the Genkō War  (1331–1333), the forces of the Emperor Go-Daigo fought the Hōjō clan for control of the country.  The Hōjō were hereditary regents and military dictators of the Kamakura Shogunate, ruling in the Emperor’s name from their capital city of Kamakura.   Go-Daigo wished to re-establish the power of the Imperial line, restoring the Emperor as defacto ruler of Japan.

Late in the War (1333), the armies of Go-Daigo placed the city of Kamakura under siege.  Battle raged throughout the region;  eventually the city walls were breached and Kamakura was destroyed.  The remaining members of the Hōjō clan retreated to their family temple within the city and committed ritual suicide.  There are many burial mounds around this area, both as result of this conflict and from battles during other periods.

During the 20th century, these mounds became targets of archeological digs.   In 2011, Dr Michael Wysocki of the University of Central Lancashire’s School of Forensic and Investigative Sciences was invited to conduct an analysis of remains from one area of the battle1.  The site, known as the Zaimokuza Mound, produced some singular results.  In this investigation Dr. Wysocki and his team specifically analyzed both battle wounds and decapitations, the later thought to be the result of ritual suicide.

“The skeletal material is of huge importance in helping to understand the nature of warfare in medieval Japan,” said Dr. Wysocki of the University’s School of Forensic and Investigative Sciences…  …The detailed examination of the skeletal remains has yielded crucial new information on sword and arrow wounds, fighting styles, ritualized coup de grace death blows and the practice of taking heads as battle trophies.

The results of his research team has, with the help of National Geographic, been released as a documentary special:  Warrior Graveyard – Samurai back from the Dead

In addition to the documentary, there have been many papers written by archeologists, anthologists and forensic specialists on the results of their research at this site.  Unfortunately, many are not freely available to the public, but must be purchased from academic research distributors or other third party providers.  For reference, all papers I can locate on the subject are listed below, marked as either “Free” or  “Paywall” to indicate their availability.

If you know of other resources, please contact me with the information at:  [email protected] and I’ll add them to the list, along with a credit for the provider.



  1. Samurai warriors examined by Japanese and British scientists | The Independent

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