Early man first inhabited the Korean Peninsula roughly half a million years
ago. In the past decade archaeological excavations have shed much new light
on the prehistoric society of Korea. At Seokjang-ri near Gongju,
Chungcheongnam-do province, artifacts of lower Paleolithic industry
including choppers and scrapers were unearthed in the lower part of the
site. Bifacial chopper or chopping-tool culture followed. Hand axes and
cleavers produced by men in later eras were also uncovered. At Sangwon near
Pyongyang, numerous fossilized faunal remains were discovered from dietary
debris of the early inhabitants of the Lower Paleolithic Age.
During the Middle Paleolithic Period, Pre-Neanderthal and Neanderthal men
dwelt in caves at Jeommal near Jecheon and Durubong near Cheongju. From
the two caves, fossil remains of rhinoceros, cave bear, brown bear,
maccacus, hyena and numerous deer (Pseudaxi gray var.), all extinct species,
were excavated. Some bones of dietary debris were engraved with delineations
of human faces as well as animal figures such as tigers, leopards, fish,
birds, etc. These findings have led to the conclusion that Neanderthal man
had the capacity to create art.
From Jeommal cave a tool, possibly for hunting, fashioned from the radius
of a Pre-Neanderthal man was unearthed, along with hunting and kitchen
tools of animal bones. The shells of nuts collected for nourishment were
Stone Implements Excavated at Sangmuryong-ri Village.
Site of Amsa-dong Prehistoric Relics.
In Seokjang-ri and elsewhere in the riverine sites, numerous chipped stone
tools were found with definite traces of Paleolithic tradition, made of
fine-grain rocks such as quartzite, porphyry, obsidian, chert, and felsite
manifest acheulian, mousteroid, and levalloisian. Those of the chopper
tradition are of much cruder shape and chipped from quartz and pegmatite.
Seokjang-ri middle layers showed that early men hunted with these bola or
There are more upper Paleolithic sites as well. From an interesting
habitation site at Seokjang-ri locality 1, some human hairs of Mongoloid
origin were found with limonitic and manganese pigments near and around a
hearth, as well as animal figurines such as a dog, tortoise and bear made
of rock, which carborn dated some 20,000 years. The living floor of compact
clay was hollowed out in the shape of a whale. It is quite possible that
was done to pray for good fishing and hunting. Obsidian microblades were
used for the carving and scraping of fish. The people may have been the
early homo sapiens of Mongoloid stock who were ancestors of modern Koreans.
A few Mesolithic sites have been discovered recently with microlits. Many
of the Mesolithic sites in the coastal areas of the west seem to have sunk
due to the rise of sea levels during the Atlantic Neolithic Period.
Flat-bottomed unmarked pottery of the early Neolithic Period first appeared,
followed by pottery with geometrical marks, a sign of the cultural
relationship between the Ural-Altaic regions where similar pottery developed.
With a few deviations, this pottery with a geometric surface design is
similar to kamm-keramic or comb pottery, which is widespread in Korea.
The design is incised in a herring bone pattern or simple sets of slanted
lines. This pottery is of a half-egg shape with a round bottom and straight
lip. The pottery was made of clay or sandy clay mixed with talc, shell,
asbestos and steatite temper, built by the coiling method and fired at a
low temperature in an open kiln.
There are numerous sites of Neolithic habitation. Known for the cluster of
dug-out huts of this era are the following: Cheongho-ri along the
Daedonggang river near Pyongyang; Misa-ri and Amsa-dong along the Han-gang
river near Seoul; and Dongsam-dong in the Nakdonggang river estuary near
Busan. These sites are of the early Neolithic Period, which came into
existence about 6 to 7 thousand years ago. The people of this period lived
by fishing, hunting and gathering wild fruits. They had also started to
grind acorns and wild grains on saddle querns.
In the late Neolithic Period, probably the fourth millennium B.C., there
was a change in the surface design on pottery. Parallel wavy lines or sets
of pit marks in the shape of lightning flashes were adopted. There are many
sites with this type of pottery along the riverine areas of the western and
southern coasts of the peninsula.
Incipient dibbling and planting were developed together with the breeding
of cattle. Digging sticks made of animal horn and stone hoes were used in
the early stage of farming. At the Jitap-ri site, carbonized millet was
found in the pottery. The early Neolithic peoples made spindles and
spindle-whorls to spin and weave clothes and fishing nets. They gradually
began to use bone needles for sewing; they also selected seeds and destroyed
weeds to protect the crops. Their huts were built in a round or
semi-rectangular dugout form with a hearth; one of these with five hearths
has been uncovered.
They believed in animism, and thought all natural objects had spirits.
Shamanism was prevalent as it was elsewhere in the northeastern Asian
regions. Shamans were believed to have supernatural power enabling them to
contact the heavenly spirit in order to protect the family and community
from evil spirits.
The Bronze Age began around the 15th century B.C. Pottery without any
surface design and with a flat bottom was made during this period, as well
as some black pottery and burnished red pottery. Red beans, soybeans and
millet were cultivated, as indicated by the imprint of such grains found
on the surface of the pottery at Yangpyeong, and some gray organic flour
was found in pottery at Hogok-dong, Musan. Agriculture during the Bronze
Age included rice cultivation in the southern part of Korea, as evidenced
by the discovery of carbonized rice grains at Hunam-ri, Yeoju. One of the
dwelling sites of this period was carbon dated 2760 B.C. A bronze ritual
ornament unearthed near Daejeon depicts a man ploughing the land, and
semi-lunar knives of polished stone are found almost everywhere in the
site of unmarked pottery. Rectangular huts and burial sites in the form of
dolmen and stone cists are much larger than those of the previous era.
As agriculture developed, surplus was stored, and specialization of labor
into peasant, artisan and bondman emerged, a change which brought about
mutual influence between kinship groups. The increase of food production
contributed to the rise of population and necessitated migration; some of
the Neolithic people possibly migrated to Kyushu, southern Japan at this
Clans within these communities all came into contact with each other and
together they made advances in the technology of smelting bronze, which
also stimulated peaceful relations as well as the practice of exogamy.
Metallurgy possibly started from firing at pottery kilns. The rise of smiths
and miners of raw material also contributed to the emergence of the ruling
and the ruled. The distribution of dolmens and menhirs is pervasive in Korea,
showing that the spread of megalithic-bronze culture developed extensively
on the peninsula.
In this period the mastery of bronze technology served as a powerful weapon
for the conquest of different clans, and thereby expedited the rise of larger
units of tribal society.