Chulmun, the Middle in the Muddle?: Review of Holocene Niche Construction in the Korean Peninsula

Lecture | April 26 | 5-6:30 p.m. | 2251 College (Archaeological Research Facility), Seminar Room

 Gyoung-Ah Lee, Associate Professor, Anthropology, University of Oregon

 Archaeological Research Facility, Department of Anthropology, Center for Korean Studies (CKS)

The Chulmun culture, documented by over 870 sites across the Korean Peninsula, presents one of the long-standing Neolithic traditions from the Early Holocene, comparable to the Jomon in Japan. The Neolithic landscape of Korea has been understood in a fragmented fashion, as rescue projects have driven archaeological investigations. A more fundamental problem lies in the mode of explanation of cultural changes, which has focused heavily on migration and environmental determinism. Departing from a one-way loop account of environmental impacts and cultural consequence, this research will illustrate the Chulmun culture using Niche Construction Theory (NCT). Humans are the most proficient niche constructors due to their cultural capacity, active social learning tendency, and multi-generational transmission of learned behaviors. NCT can therefore provide an intuitive framework applicable to various archaeological cases, including the Chulmun culture. Increasing evidence of early plant management indicates the Chulmun economy was not as simple as was previously thought. A series of questions in focus includes how Neolithic people manipulated economic plants and how this strategy affected both environmental and cultural niches. Examples come from diverse landscapes, including alluvial flats, hilly uplands, coastal regions, and islands. Multiple lines of evidence for the early transition to farming include macroscopic and microscopic plant remains and settlement patterns. This research evaluates the possibility of Neolithic management of economic plants and the transition to a more closely managed construction of farming landscapes.