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Reviewed by:
  • William Gowland: The Father of Japanese Archaeology
  • Mark Hudson
William Gowland: The Father of Japanese Archaeology. Victor Harris and Kazuo Goto, eds. Tokyo: Asahi Shinbunsha and London: British Museum Press, 2003. 199 pp. ¥9000. ISBN 4-02-257835-1.

William Gowland (1842–1922) was a British chemist who was employed by the Imperial Japanese Mint in Osaka for 16 years (1872 to 1888). In addition to active interests in art and mountaineering, Gowland was a keen amateur archaeologist who surveyed hundreds of Kofun era tombs in western Japan. After his return to the UK, Gowland's collection of artifacts, plans, and photographs eventually made its way to the British Museum. Although parts of this collection had been seen by Kofun specialists Sueji Umehara, probably in 1924, and Hatsushige Otsuka in 1967, the volume under review here is the first extensive publication of the Gowland collection.

The main body of this book consists of plans and photographs of the tombs surveyed by Gowland, as well as drawings and photographs of the artifacts he collected. The illustrations are all accompanied by detailed notes. Short chapters by Victor Harris, Hironori Ueda, Hatsushige Otsuka, and Kazuo Goto provide further background on Gowland and his archaeological work. The entire book has text in both Japanese and English. Despite a number of typos, the translations from Japanese read smoothly, although I feel it would have been more appropriate to use British rather than American English on this occasion.

The volume's photographer, Kazuo Goto, describes the difficult conditions under which he was required to take the photos reproduced here (p. 185), yet the results are impressive. Goto's photographs provide us with an excellent archaeological record of the Gowland collection that is also artistically pleasing, the often rather stark contrast recalling Gowland's own photos of a century earlier. The detailed notes that accompany these photos will be of great value to scholars working on the material culture of Kofun period Japan.

Gowland's approach to survey and excavation appears to have been meticulous. As early as 1878, he employed screening with sieves of different mesh size during excavations at the Shibamura tomb (now known as Shibayama) in Higashi Osaka City. In terms of interpretation, Gowland developed critical views on some of the so-called imperial mausolea and on the extent of Yamato power in the earlier Kofun period. Otsuka (p. 173) writes that "Gowland's findings did not reach the ears of Japanese academia because all three [of his] papers were published after his return to England, unfortunately with no way for them to gain acceptance in contemporary Japanese archaeological circles." Ueda (p. 160) expands on this by suggesting that Gowland's failure to publish until after his return to the UK "was surely not coincidental. He judiciously foresaw the uproar his reports would cause, and determined to hold off publication until he was safely out of the country." Further discussion of this issue and further background on Gowland himself would have made this volume of more interest to scholars outside of Kofun studies. A chronology of Gowland's life and [End Page 96] a list of relevant publications would also have been welcome additions. For instance, in an extract from an 1895 letter reproduced here on p. 20, W. G. Aston wrote to Gowland that he was "Glad to hear Mrs. Gowland and the young person are flourishing." Since we are told that Gowland was unmarried while in Japan (p. 18), could it be that his new wife and child explain his delay in publishing his research as much as his reluctance to be controversial while actually in Japan? Perhaps the major frustration with this book is that it never makes explicit exactly what is and is not known about Gowland's life.

Without doubt, however, this volume presents a timely reevaluation of Gowland's archaeological work in Japan, work that had been largely forgotten by the Japanese archaeological community. Together with Edward Morse, Heinrich von Siebold, and others, Gowland was one of a number of Western scholars who were influential in the development of archaeology in Meiji Japan. To call Gowland "The Father of Japanese Archaeology" is surely an exaggeration, but...