Buried cultural property (埋蔵文化財)

Buried cultural properties are cultural properties (cultural heritages) that are found under the ground. They are covered by the cultural heritage protection system in general.

Its institutional position in Japan

Under Article 92 of the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties (Article 57 of the former Protection Law [took effect until March 31, 2005]), buried cultural properties are defined as 'cultural properties whichare buried underground,' but they are practically taken as almost synonymous with remains and archaeological materials subjected to the study of archaeology. Specifically, however, 'buried cultural property' refers to an ancient structural remnant that is recognized worth as a cultural property buried under the ground and a relic, which is defined as a 'hidden treasure' under Article 241 of the Civil Codes, that is estimated to be worth as a cultural property, and in terms of the scope of remains, 'the well-known archaeological and/or historical subsoil' is defined as 'any site well-known to contain buried cultural property such as shell mounds, ancient tombs or others' under Article 93 of the Protection Law (Article 57-2 of the former Protection Law).

Scope of buried cultural properties defined under the laws

The scope of 'ancient structural remnant' that is recognized worth as a cultural property buried under the ground and 'relic' that is estimated to be worth as a tangible cultural property, or the legal scope of 'buried cultural property,' was defined by the 'notice concerning the protection of buried cultural properties and facilitation of their excavation researches, etc.,' issued by the Deputy Commissioner for Cultural Affairs to the Directors of the Prefectural Boards of Education as of September 29, 1998, or the so-called 'notice for facilitation' of 1998.

According to this notice, the 'principles for the scope of buried cultural properties' are as follows.

Remains of roughly the medieval period or earlier are covered in principle.

Remains of the early modern period, which are necessary for the region, can be covered.

Remains of the modern times and the present day, which are of significant importance for the region, can be covered.

The notice also indicated that as 'elements of one standard as the scope of buried cultural properties,' 'the age and type of a remain be regarded as the principal element and historic features of the region the remain is located, the complementary relationship between literal data (history), pictures and figures, folklore materials and other materials, the situation existing remnant of the remain, and the amount of information obtained from such site be the secondary elements.'

Legal position of excavated articles and relics

When any earthenware fragment is collected by a distribution survey conducted in the archaeological and/or historical subsoil or any relic is excavated as a result of an investigation, the finder shall notify the local police station of the discovery within one (1) week of the day of discovery under Article 13 of the Lost Property Act ('report on discovery of hidden treasure').
The legal interpretation is that a relic before being unearthed is a 'hidden treasure' in accordance with the Civil Codes, but once it is unearthed or picked up, it is regarded as a 'found article.'

In case a hidden treasure placed as a found article before the police station is recognized as a potential cultural property, the chief of police shall submit the 'document for buried cultural property' to the Boards ofEducation of prefectures, designated cities and core cities in accordance with Article 101 of the Protection Law (Article 60 of the former Protection Law). Also, the finder shall submit the 'certificate of custody of buried cultural property' to the Boards ofEducation of prefectures, designated cities and core cities and upon finding the said object to be a cultural property under Article 102 of the Protection Law (Article 61 of the former Protection Law), the 'notice of recognition as a cultural property' shall be sent to the police station with a copy sent to the finder. At this point, the object is finally designated as a cultural property. It would say that the characteristic lies in its system to legally recognize even an earthenware fragment as a cultural property without being designated as the historic site.

[Original Japanese]