Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ancient Kingdom of Mahan, near Paju

In Jeollanamdo south of Kwangju are a scattering of great tumuli (grave mounds) from the ancient kingdom of Mahan, contemporary to the better known kingdoms of Silla, Baekje and Gaya. The grave burials in appearance are similar to those in Kyungju, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla, but when excavated the tumulis reveal different burial practices and cultural relics that speak of another great kingdom with pottery and metal jewelry and footwear signifying creative advancement similar to that of Silla: a gilt-bronze crown, gilt-bronze shoes, metal worked tools, jade, among other treasures depicting skill and craftmanship.

Pictured are the Bannam tumuli made more into a tourist attraction due to the concentration of tumuli here - notice the chrysanthemums: a chrsanthemum festival is held at the end of October to encourage tourism, the site itself must be made attractive to procure touristic interest (!). However, the surrounding area has many tumuli and they have only been carefully groomed, trees removed and grass kept short as a show of respect to ancestors. Apparently this area has not been excavated as extensively as those in Kyungju, but in excavating this region known as the Yeongsan River Region the unique jar coffin burial are revealed in stone chambers which are situated above ground within the tumuli. This distinction in burial differs greatly from the Goguryeo Kingdom era which filled its tombs with stone supposedly now thought as a deterent to grave robbing, from the Beakje stone chamber tomb, from the Silla stone-filled wooden coffin tomb, and finally from the Gaya stone coffin tomb. These tumuli were constructed in the 3rd-6th centuries, but with the development of the kingdom, by the 4th century the height of the grave mounds grew, some as high 40 and 50 meters.

The tombs are thought to contain the ruling class of the region and in the Yeongsan River Region, Bannam is thought to be the center of the ancient ruling class people. It is thought that due to discoveries found in the excavation that through the Yeongsan River the Mahan had active exchange of goods between the Beakje, Gaya and the Japanese.

Cultural Thoughts on Burying the Dead
A mixture of the ancient tumuli in the background and the more recent, modern-day style of tomb-making in the foreground: The material of the tomb is really not considered important when building a typical tomb, but the location as determined through pungsujiri and the shape itself of the tomb are very important. The location determines the ki or energy that the ancestor is able to gather and channel into its family members, and so family members are ever so careful in choosing the correct location for it will ensure their own success. The tomb is to be rounded and figuratively depicts a pregnant woman, a woman who will metaphysically give birth through cultural thought, advancement to her descendents, and guidance - this shows the cycle of life, the cycle of birth and death and their interconnections through the family. And it is only family, the blood related members, who can receive the blessings of the ancestors, and for this reason, adoption is not to be culturally considered for how can adopted children be connected to the cycle of tending the ancestors graves so that the ancestors can reciprocate through on-going protection and blessings?

Because Koreans are paying less and less attention to ancestor regards (worship isn't the correct term) and because cremation is now becoming an accepted way of dealing with the body (somewhere between 6~9% of all arable farmland is used for tombs according to research, a considerable sum considering land prices and population per km), adoption is being thought of more positively ... actually for this and many social reasons and reflections of social change, which basically reflect the breaking down of the "우리" or us/our in Korean society.