Through the artistry and material culture of early craftspeople in what is now Korea, archaeologists are gaining insights into the development of the region into a socio-politically complex society. New and ever more significant discoveries are rewriting history, and changing scholars understanding of relations within and across the civilizations of Northeast Asia.
This panel is part of a series "Continental Korea," placing Korea in historical East Asian context.
Martin T. Bale:
" Daggers, Greenstone, and Burnished Vessels: Political Economy in Mumun Period Korea "
An examination of material cultural elements of political economy can enable us to understand changes in the transformation of political and ritual landscapes in the southern Korean Peninsula and northern Kyushu in the transition from transegalitarian to incipiently socio-politically complex societies. The production and distribution of polished groundstone daggers and other prestige artefacts occurred as part of a nascent political economy in the Korean Mumun Period, c. 1500-300 BC, and in the Early Yayoi of Kyushu, c. 800/700-300 BC. I use several interconnected theoretical models to explore the interplay of exchange, culture change, and the materialisation of ideology in the construction of the meaning of groundstone daggers. The objects were a key part of mortuary culture for a millennium, and I argue that their meaning changed diachronically according to changes in local and regional social scales. In particular, competing elite actors altered their meaning in the name of the accumulation of social capital and used the production and distribution of the artefacts to build political power by attracting and maintaining supporters between 850 and 550 BC.
Mortuary Ritual and Political Identity in Iron Age Korea
Was the Korean Iron Age, defined here as lasting roughly 600 years (300 BC to 300 AD), just a precursor to the Three Kingdoms Period? Dramatic social changecharacterized by increased but inconsistent contact with China, the coalescing of villages and towns into regional centers, and the extension of elite authority through control of emerging iron and ceramic production systemsindicates tthat Iron Age polities should be seen as more than simple developmental or incipient versions of the Three Kingdoms states (Koguryo, Paekche, Silla, and a number of smaller iron producing centers collectively referred to as Kaya). Archaeologically, this change is reflected most clearly in the mortuary record of the southern portion of the peninsula. Beginning in the first century BC, early wood-coffin pit graves are gradually replaced by large cemeteries of densely clustered wood-chambered tombs containing an abundance of iron and ceramic objects. These grow in scale until by the fourth century massive elite tombs dominate hillsides while sprawling necropolises that contained hundreds of lavishly equipped and more modest graves become the central features of emerging urban centers.
This talk introduces this somewhat neglected period of Korean prehistory through examination of two recently excavated cemeteries in the region and then assesses current theories of social and political organization through a close analysis of Chinese and Chinese imitation bronze mirrors interred as grave goods. While these objects have been extensively documented and analyzed as to their provenance and decoration, here attention is paid more to the positioning and ritual significance of mirrors in Korean tombs. The diversity of ways mirrors are placed in graves indicates the variable strategies local elites used to establish and maintain power in a period of social upheaval.
Golden Finds from the Mirŭk-sas Reliquary Chamber and Their Revisionist Implications for Paekche History
The Mirŭk-sa, the Temple of Maitreya, was a magnificent Buddhist monastic center of unique and complex design that was constructed at the command of King Mu (r. 600641) of Paekche in the second quarter of the seventh century, a time of incessant warfare on the Korean peninsula. The continuing archaeological investigation of the temples site that was initiated in 1980 has yielded literally volumes of fresh data about the history of this major early Korean Buddhist site. Visually the most spectacular and arguably historically the most significant of the discoveries made at the site was the recent unearthing of the undisturbed reliquary chamber in the base of the temples western pagoda. This presentation will focus on the significance of the chambers golden contents in terms not only of art history, but also for the new light that they shed on Buddhisms political role in Paekche and on the traditional account of the Mirŭk-sas founding preserved in the thirteenth-century Samguk yusa.
The Lelang Census of 45 BC and Historical Geography in Northern Korea
Research on the history of the Korean peninsula prior to the fourth century has long been hindered by uncertainty as to the geographical locations of the principal towns, tribal centers, and geographical features that are named in historical texts. An example of this concerns the Han Chinese commandery of Lelang, which existed in the northern part of the Korean peninsula from 108 BC until the fourth century. While there has been some debate regarding the locations and extents of the commandery and its districts, the lack of hard data has allowed for little more than speculation in such debates. More recently, however, archaeological advances have begun to produce evidence for Han and indigenous occupations for the centuries associated with the commandery, and one discovery in particularwooden tablets containing a census for Lelang dating to 45 BCpermits scholars to move ahead more confidently in the use of historical geography as a means to draw the historical map for the period of peninsular history, and leads to the solution of some long-standing problems in the history of this time and place.