Sunday, November 22, 2009

Uhangri Dinosaur Tracks

In 1972 the first dinosaur remains were discovered in South Korea. Since that time as many as 27 dinosaur track localities have been discovered with a few spots getting avid international archeological attention. The five spots that have received the most attention as far as publications and being generally publicized are Haenam (Uhangri, the site where these pictures were taken), Hwasun, Yeosu, Goseong and Masan. The point they share in common is their coastal or marshland borders.

Common when Koreans talk about their country, they include such phrases as "best", "most", "biggest", and other judgemental superlatives, implying a constant comparison with self and others. But when talking about the Uhangri Dinosaur field, such terms can appropriately be applied.

Uhangri has the ...
... first identified ptersosaur tracks found in Asia (1996) and the XX meter track is the longest in the world with the largest footprint in the world at 35 cm and whose bone fossils have been reported in international academic circles.
... only site in the world where pterosaurs, dinosaurs and bird tracks are found in a single location.
... only site in the world of star-shaped dinosaur prints

... oldest fossilized webbed footprints (suggested at 83 million years ago).
... largest footprints of the two-legged and four-legged herbivorous dinosaurs in Korea.

Among the dinosaur tracks in the limestone are trace fossils and silicified wood. The sideway scuttle of some larger crab are evident on some rocks and more is evident for the trained eye. I must say though, I had to carefully read most of the information posts and study the accompanying pictures carefully in order to see some of the phenomenon more easily visibly to the paleoanthropologist's eye. And as far as the rock that has the older webbed footprint on it is concerned, no matter how hard I studied that map I couldn't find the webbed imprint. So I took a picture (posted to the left) and in the left side of the map is where the webbed footpads can be found ... according to the information.

In Haenam, the closest large town approximately 30 minutes away by local bus, I asked several individuals about the dinosaur tracks. They were interested in me being interested in their local famed site but didn't feel especially akin to the field of tracks itself, even though the dinosaur tracks are listed as one of Korea's Natural Heritages. At first I was a little surprised by their rather nonchalant attitude concerning something that deserves so much academic attention and could bring fame and tourism to their town, boosting their local economy.
One local shopkeeper even tried to warn me off from my visit to the tracks; he kept repeating "keets" "keets", and finally I got it! He was telling me the place was for "kids"! Wow, but I realized that such a comment reflects marketing strategies and people's expectations nowadays in Korea about what is "FUN" and what isn't ... and the younger generations cetainly don't think history is "FUN". [As it turned out, it was a very impressive educational museum on dinosaurs, not interactive at all, but I guess the historic site was marketed as a big adventure land where you can go see huge tough-looking dinosaurs ... and enjoy the museum restuarant or extensive lawns for a picnic.]

But the puzzle about why the locals weren't particularly interested in their local Natural Heritage needed more thought. Last year in Gurye, also in Jeollanamdo, I was interested in meeting some of the centennarians of the gun (area). Everyone - from the taxi driver to the shopkeepers to the people we met on the streets and in restaurants - were hyper-proud of their local people who had reached the venerable age of 100. Everyone had comments on their elderly community, why they could live that long and the remote atmosphere of their town in the foothills of Jiri Mountain as being beneficial for longevity. But here in Haenam I didn't find the same enthusiasm on their cultural heritage, and after a bit of thought, I realized it was the connection of 'people'. Gurye is proud of its people, who are a part of themselves, which epitomizes the concept of "우리", us/our. Koreans are very group-centered and there are clear distinctions between 'us' in the family, 'us' in the community, 'us' in the nation, and if you are not a part of 'us' then you are an 'outsider'. And so when the locals were regarding their local Natural Heritage, it was only a place, not a connection to the Korean people as a nation as people and dinosaurs did not coexist; therefore, the site was only a place of amusement, entertainment or place to be, but not one that connects and bonds the ancestors together with those in the present. The locals were certainly proud of their local heritage but not in the way that I was expecting.