Daegokcheon Stream Petroglyphs (near Ulsan) were placed on the Tentative List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2010. According to the results of an analysis of animal bones discovered in a shell midden in Ulsan and widespread along the southeastern coasts and of research on Ulsan Bay's archaeological environment, the site dates from 6,000 to 1,000 B.C.. The Cheonjeon-ri and Bangudae Petroglyphs were first discovered in December 1970. A research team for Buddhist sites from Dongguk University first introduced this prehistoric rock art to academics and published the first official report in 1984. [Source: Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea]

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The Daegokcheon Stream Petroglyphs are a work of inscribed rock art engraved on three-kilometerlong cliffs located in the Daegokcheon Stream, which include the Bangudae Petroglyphs in Daegokri (National Treasure No. 285, Coordinates: N35 36 50 E129 10 28) and the Petroglyphs in Cheonjeon-ri (National Treasure No. 147, Coordinates: N35 36 53 E129 10 25). The Cheonjeon-ri and Bangudae Petroglyphs were first discovered in December 1970. A research team for Buddhist sites from Dongguk University first introduced this prehistoric rock art to academics and published the first official report in 1984.

The upper reaches of the Daegokcheon Stream, where the Daegokcheon Petroglyphs are located, have remained nearly intact in their natural state since the prehistoric age, along with diverse relics that date from the prehistoric age to the historic era. Not only the prehistoric ecosystem but also the harmonious relationship between nature and humans from the starting point of the historic age to the modern era can be found in this historic site.

"Bangudae" means "a tall, flat rock resembling a tortoise". The rocks between the Bangudae and the Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs and their surrounding area boast beautiful scenery in this site. During the Joseon Period (1392-1910), this scenic location served as a gathering place where the literati class indulged in poetry and music, and the many inscriptions and drawings engraved on these rocks reflect their enjoyment of the place. In this sense, Daegokcheon Stream, which links the two petroglyph sites, serves as a "living museum" where diverse relics dating from the prehistoric era to the historic age are organically connected.

The rock face of Bangudae, measuring three meters in height and ten meters in length, is located on the lower part of a 30-meter-tall cliff that faces north. The eastern end (left-hand side) of the rock face, which curves to the west, bears numerous traces of rock art, but has been exposed to severe weathering. More engravings are distributed around the center of the rock face, which is well preserved. More than 300 images were found through investigations.

The Daegokcheon Stream area, where many prehistoric relics including petroglyphs are distributed, has been very well preserved, and the beautiful scenery has served as a good venue for many people to enjoy nature and cultural activities. This is why systematic measures for preservation of the two petroglyph sites are needed. The Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs are surrounded by various other petroglyphs including the engravings of human footprints, making it the most plentiful area for prehistoric rock art on the Korean Peninsula.

As with other Korean petroglyphs, the Bangudae and Cheonjeon-ri engravings, the foremost artifacts of the Daegokcheon Stream Petroglyphs, belong to the Northeast Asian petroglyph culture that ranges from the southern part of Siberia in Russia to Mongolia and the northern territory of China. Located at the southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula, these two petroglyphs sit at the end of the Northeast Asian petroglyph range. The engraved stone marks the border of this regional petroglyph culture, and clearly contains uniquely Korean features even while falling within the Northeast Asian style of rock art.

Other Prehistoric Korean petroglyphs include: 1) the Yangjeon-ri engravings in Goryeong, Gyeongsangbuk-do; 2) Petroglyphs in Anhwa-ri, Goryeong, 3) in Chilpo-ri, Yeongil, 4) in Boseong-ri, Yeongcheon, 5) in Gaheungri, Yeongju, 6) in Ansim-ri, Gyeongju, in Seokjang-dong, Gyeongju, and 7) in Daegok-ri, Namwon Except for the Seokjang-dong Petroglyphs in Gyeongju, which contain a relative variety of images compared to others, most of the aforementioned engravings uniformly feature a unique shieldshaped figure (presumed to be the face or mask of a god). In contrast, the Cheonjeon-ri and Bangudae engravings in the Daegok-ri Petroglyphs depict animals and humans in detail. In particular, the Cheonjeon-ri panel, which contains abstract patterns as its main images and detailed line carvings from the Iron Age that have never been found elsewhere on the Korean Peninsula, is a representative form of prehistoric Korean art along with the Bangudae Petroglyphs.

Images at Daegokcheon Stream Petroglyphs

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The engraved images include: humans (14), animals (193), ships (5), tools (6), and unknown (78). Animals, both sea animals and land animals, are depicted as being pregnant, indicating the ancient people's earnest desire for securing food and fertility. Among sea animals, whales are particularly numerous. They are varied in type and depicted in a level of detail that has earned the monument its reputation for being the world's most famous whale petroglyphs. The many images of whales suggests that they were an object of worship for premodern people who lived in this area during the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, and signify their beliefs about life, death, and the afterlife. [Source: Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea]

The Daegokcheon engravings can be broadly divided into two categories: simple silhouettes and detailed line carvings. The difference between these two techniques relatively clearly reflects the difference in time period and culture, and are therefore very important for understanding the culture and lifestyles of people at the time that the rock art was created, as well as the chronology. According to the research that has been done so far, simple silhouettes have been found to predate figures with detailed line carvings. The simple silhouette images are mostly whales, with some land animals included, while the detailed line carvings are mostly land animals, such as wild boars and tigers, with a small number of sea animals. This difference in content according to method indicates that there was a different in time period and cultural background for the artists who were using these techniques.

Both the peck-and-polish technique and grinding methods were used for the engravings, and the images were made by chiseling out (1) the silhouettes of the figures, or (2) detailed line drawings, including the figures' bones and organs. These methods of carving and detailing provide significant information about both the petroglyphs-helping to estimate their age by analyzing the techniques and overlapping of images-and its cultural characteristics-based on other cultures that used the same techniques.

With its large surface area (3x10 meters) covered in a variety of carvings that date from different historical eras, revealing the inhabitants' changing artistic techniques and aesthetic tastes, the rock art is a rare specimen. The site of the Bangudae engravings and its surrounding area contains many historic relics that date back to the age of dinosaurs, before the birth of human beings, and continue up to the modern era. This broad historical distribution concretely demonstrates the historical position/importance of the Bangudae Petroglyphs vis-a-vis the span of Korean history.

Images at Bangudae Petroglyphs

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The Bangudae rock art is presumed to date back from the late Neolithic Age to the Bronze Age. The remaining images, which number about 300 and feature a variety of humans and animals against the backdrop of land and sea, constitutes a precious heritage, both culturally and academically, as few such examples have been found around the world. [Source: Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea]

Animals are depicted in highly realistic detail with respect to their ecological characteristics. For this reason, the Bangudae engravings are regarded more highly than other East Asian petroglyphs, including those in Korea. In particular, the fact that the whales are drawn in enough detail to be identifiable by species-including gray whales, right whales, humpback whales, sperm whales, and killer whales-gives the engravings an outstanding quality that is hard to find in other rock art.

Listed below are the types of figures depicted in the Bangudae engraved stone. Humans - full-length figure (12), face (2); Animals - artiodactyla (57), carnivore (26), cetacean (58), chelonian (6), bird (3), fish (2), unknown (41); Tools - ship (5), fence (2), net (2), weapon (1), others (1); Unidentified - kind (24), shape (54)

The Bangudae rock carvings are recognized as one of the world's most outstanding whale petroglyphs. This particular motif is found as far away as Canada, the United States and Mexico, and is sparsely distributed along the Pacific coastline in accordance with the migration routes of whales, which start east of Korea and continue through the Aleutian Islands and the Alaskan waters to southern California.

The Bangudae Petroglyphs are also important aesthetically, given the artistic methods used, including the realistic depiction of real animals' ecological characteristics and the fact that each drawing serves not as a simple element in a group of unrelated pictures but as single motifs arranged in a specific order within a total composition . The rules of composition that determined how the surface and line engravings would be arranged, such as the avoidance of overlapping images, provide help to determine the age of the relics and aid in research on the cultural changes for the artists living at the time.

Images at the Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs include the earliest engravings in Korea. The Petroglyphs' most unique feature is their overlapping images, which include animal and human figures from the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age, abstract patterns presumably from the middle Bronze Age, line engravings of humans and animals from the Iron Age, and inscriptions from the Three Kingdoms Period and the Unified Silla. In this regard, the site where the Cheonjeon-ri rock art sits and its surrounding area are presumed to have long been considered sacred, from the prehistoric age to the historic era. [Source: Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea]

The Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs are found on a retangular panel (2.8 x 9.7 meters) and its surrounding rock surfaces. The drawings and inscriptions engraved on the narrow panel overlap in four layers according to the years of carving, marking the uniquenss of this thousands-of-years-old historic monument. Meanwhile, the best preserved part of the Bangudae Petroglyphs is the central panel. This 3 by 10-meter surface, engraved with over 300 motifs, is globally recognized as a rare and invaluable monument.

Listed below are the types of figures depicted in the Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs. Humans (8) Animals -artiodactyla (123), carnivore (67), reptile (1), bird (2), cetacean (5), fish (3), unknown (7). The earliest engravings of animals and humans in the Cheonjeon-ri rock art, which are believed to have been influenced by Siberian culture, are recognized as invaluable materials for the geneaology of prehistoric Korean culture. While the Bangudae Petroglyphs are known for their images of sea animals, the Cheonjeon-ri rock carvings mostly consist of land animals, especially large-horned deer. Thus, both sites are significant as they can be compared to each other, and both aid in the study of cultural change. The Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs date back to the late Neolithic Age or the early Bronze Age.

The abstract images of the Cheonjeon-ri rock art that are presumed to date back to the middle Bronze Age include many continuous overlapping lozenge patterns, concentric circles, spirals, and zigzags. Although no clear explanations have been made of these images as they are very rare on the Korean Peninsula, simlar abstract patterns have been discovered in Siberia and northern China. This serves as evidence of the close relationship between the prehistoric cultures of Korea and Siberia.

The Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs are famous for their animal and human figures, geometrical patterns, fine-lined engravings, and overlapping inscriptions from the Silla Period (57 B.C.-935 A.D.). As the content and techniques used to carve and detail the figures are distinctive, stylistic changes in art according to time period can be ascertained from this engraved stone. Moreover, it is also recognized as an important resource not only for East Asian art history but for world art history.

The Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs are unique in that they are layered, historic rock art that dates from the prehistoric age to the historic era. Each layer contains symbolic engravings from over the years, ranging from animal and human figures, abstract patterns, line carvings of animals and humans, to inscriptions. Few such panels-on which thousands of years of human history are inscribed-have been found around the world.

Very strong, sharp iron tools were used for the line engravings from the Iron Age in the Cheonjeonri Petroglyphs. The engraved lines are too thin to be discernible. The features include a procession of people on horseback or leading horses, people on sailboats, animals that look like dragons, concentric circles, spirals, entangled straight lines, and human figures wearing clothes that are also found on pottery from the Three Kingdoms Period. These images are presumed to date to around the 5th or 6th century, as are the nearby inscripions, but both are hardly connectable with respect to content; therefore, the drawings are believed to predate the inscriptions. These images are believed to depict the earliest form of the Silla costume during the Three Kingdoms Period.

The inscriptions, the latest carvings on the Cheonjeon-ri rock panel, are about Hwarang, or the aristocratic youth corps of Silla, who were trained there. The records include the young members' names, years, their training programs, and stories about the king and the royal family. The royal family's Taoistic practices and offerings to the heavens, as well as the relationship among royal family members, have been found. These rare records have earned the inscriptions their reputation as invaluable monuments.

Gochang, Hwasun and Gannghwa Dolmen Sites: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000 and date back to around 1000 B.C. . Gochang and Hwasun are in southwest South Korea and Ganghwa is on an island by the same name near Incheon. According to UNESCO: “The prehistoric cemeteries at Gochang, Hwasun, and Ganghwa contain many hundreds of examples of dolmens - tombs from the 1st millennium BC constructed of large stone slabs. They form part of the Megalithic culture, found in many parts of the world, but nowhere in such a concentrated form.” [Source: UNESCO]

“The Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen sites contain the highest density and greatest variety of dolmens in Korea, and indeed of any country. Dolmens are megalithic funerary monuments, which figured prominently in Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures across the world during the 2nd and 1st millennia BCE. Usually consisting of two or more undressed stone slabs supporting a huge capstone, it is generally accepted that they were simply burial chambers, erected over the bodies or bones of deceased worthies. They are usually found in cemeteries on elevated sites and are of great archaeological value for the information that they provide about the prehistoric people who built them and their social and political systems, beliefs and rituals, and arts and ceremonies.

The Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites preserve important evidence of how stones were quarried, transported and raised and of how dolmen types changed over time in northeast Asia.” The site is important because “the global prehistoric technological and social phenomenon that resulted in the appearance in the 2nd and 3rd millennia BCE of funerary and ritual monuments constructed of large stones (the "Megalithic Culture") is nowhere more vividly illustrated than in the dolmen cemeteries of Gochang, Hwasun, and Ganghwa.

A significant number of dolmens are distributed in each of the three areas, fully showing the development history of the megalithic culture with numerous examples of various style and type. The existence of a quarry near the site is especially important in providing references to the origins, nature and developmental history of the dolmens, as well as contributing to the integrity of the property. These components are all included within the boundaries of the inscribed property. The re-erection of selected collapsed or dispersed dolmens is planned. This work will be based on meticulous scientific research, in order to establish the original configuration and location of the dolmens.

The Gochang Dolmen Museum, Hwasun Dolmen Site Protection Pavilion and Ganghwa Historic Museum provide information about each dolmen site to visitors. The dolmens possess authenticity of form, materials and location. Most of the dolmens have remained untouched since the time of their construction, their present condition being the result of normal processes of decay. Although a few have been dismantled by farmers their stones have survived intact and their original location and form can be identified without difficulty.

Gochang, Hwasun and Gannghwa Dolmen Sites

The property encompasses three distinct areas: 1) the Gochang Dolmen Site (8.38 hectares) features the largest and most diversified group, and is centered in the village of Maesan, along the southern foot of a group of hills running east/west. Over 440 dolmens of various types have been recorded in this location. 2) The Hwasun Dolmen Site (31 hectares) is situated on the slopes of a low range of hills, along the Jiseokgang River. There are more than 500 dolmens in this group. In a number of cases, the stone outcrops from which the stones making up these dolmens have been identified. 3) The Ganghwa Dolmen Sites (12.27 hectares) are on the offshore island of Ganghwa, on mountain slopes. They tend to be situated at a higher level than the dolmens of the other sites and are stylistically early, in particular those at Bugeun-ri and Gocheon-ri. [Source: UNESCO]

Gochang Dolmen site in Jungnim-ri, Gochang-gun, Jeollabuk-do, has one of the largest concentrations of dolmen, with over 1,550 dolmens in the area. Of the many dolmens, 447 of Gochang’s dolmens were officially registered with UNESCO. Gochang is a well-known dolmen site in Korea for allowing visitors to see many dolmens in a variety of shapes and sizes. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization ]

Hwasun Dolmen Site is spread throughout a 10km-long mountain valley linking Hyosan-ri and Daesin-ri. The site has a total of 596 dolmens, usually found at the foot of the mountain or on the rocky mountain tops. Being located in areas difficult for humans to access, the dolmens have remained nearly perfectly preserved.

There are over 120 dolmens remaining from the Bronze Age at Ganghwa. The distribution of dolmens here is quite widely spread throughout a diverse topography, which is conclusive evidence that the societal structures were quite different depending on the dates the dolmens were built. It is assumed that the materials used to build the dolmen stones were transported from a distant rock quarry or stony coast. Therefore, the social and power structure were presumably well established, given that it was not an easy task to move a large rock during that era. The most representative dolmen in the region is 'Bugeulli Jiseok Dolmen', a table-styled dolmen with a huge cover stone, 5.6m in width and 7.1m in length, resting on two supporting stones 2.6m in height. The purpose of this dolmen has not yet been discovered but there have been speculations that it was either the tomb of a tribal chief or an altar for rituals.

Old Chosun

By the fourth century B.C., a number of walled-town states on the peninsula had survived long enough to come to the attention of China. The most illustrious of these states was Old Chosun, which had established itself along the banks of the Liao and the Taedong rivers in southern Manchuria and northwestern Korea. Old Chosun civilization consisted of a political federation of walled towns. The boundary formed by the Amnok (Yalu) and Tuman (Tumen) rivers has been recognized for centuries as Korea’s northern limit. However, this was not always the case; Koreans ranged far beyond this border into northeastern China and Siberia, where sizable Korean minorities still live in the twenty-first century. [Source: Library of Congress, July 2007]

Old Chosun prospered as a civilization based on bronze culture and a political federation of many walled towns; the federation, judging from Chinese accounts, was formidable to the point of arrogance. Riding horses and deploying bronze weapons, the Chosun people extended their influence to the north, taking most of the Liaodong Basin. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993]

But the rising power of the north China state of Yen (1122-255 B.C.) checked Chosun's growth and eventually pushed it back to territory south of the Ch'ngch'n River, located midway between the Yalu and Taedong rivers. As the Yen gave way in China to the Qin (221-207 B.C.) and the Han dynasties (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), Chosun declined, and refugee populations migrated eastward. Out of this milieu, emerged Wiman, a man who assumed the kingship of Chosun sometime between 194 and 180 B.C. The Kingdom of Wiman Chosun melded Chinese influence, and under the Old Chosun federated structure — apparently reinvigorated under Wiman — the state again expanded over hundreds of kilometers of territory. Its ambitions ran up against a Han invasion, however, and Wiman Chosun fell in 108 B.C.

These developments coincided with the beginnings of iron culture, enabling the rise of a sophisticated agriculture based on implements such as hoes, plowshares, and sickles. Cultivation of rice and other grains increased markedly. Although the peoples of the peninsula could not yet be called "Korean," there was an unquestioned continuity in agrarian society from this time until the emergence of a unified Korean state many centuries later.

Han Chinese built four commanderies, or local military units, to rule the peninsula as far south as the Han River, with a core area at Lolang (Nangnang in Korean), near present-day Pyongyang. It is illustrative of the relentlessly different historiography practiced in North Korea and South Korea, as well as the projection backward of Korean nationalism practiced by both sides, that North Korean historians deny that the Lolang Commandery was centered in Korea. They place it northwest of the peninsula, possibly near Beijing, in order to de-emphasize China's influence on ancient Korean history. They perhaps do so because Lolang was clearly a Chinese city, as attested by the many burial objects showing the affluent lives of Chinese overlords and merchants.

The Old Chosun period is divided into the Tan'gun, Kija, and Wiman periods. With the rise of the power and expansion of the Han empire in China (206 B.C.–A.D. 220), Old Chosun declined. A new iron culture gradually emerged on the Korean Peninsula, and in the first three centuries A.D. a large number of walled-town states developed in southern Korea. Shortly after the fall of Wiman Chosun in 108 B.C. and the establishment of Chinese military control in the north, the Three Kingdoms (Silla, Koguryo, and Paekche) period began.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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