Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bangudae and Cheonjeonri Petrophyphs

On the outskirts of Ulsan are the famous Bangudae and Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs. Dongguk University Investigation Team discovered the highly detailed Bangudae petroglyphs in 1971, only one year after the Cheonjeon-ri petroglyphs. Since, other petroglyphs have been discovered in South Korea, but none as large, striking or revealing of a rich whaling and hunting past as those of the large Bangudae specimen. The Bangudae petroglyphs are considered the nicest petroglyph specimen in Northeast Asia and in 2017 it is slated to be submitted as another UNESCO treasure for South Korea. One drawback to this is in 1962 - 1965 the Daegok Dam [Wikipedia says Sayeon Dam - has the name changed?] was built and then expanded from 1999 - 2002. This dam is important as it backs up drinking water for the ever-growing industrial city of Ulsan; however, when water rises for several months of the year, the Bangudae petroglyphs, arguably 3500 - 8000 years old, become partially submerged by water, damaging the ancient cliff art. Already some damage has been caused and if South Korea submits the petroglyphs as a UNESCO treasure, the petroglyphs must be preserved in their natural setting ... and yet Ulsan needs its water. There lies the dilemma.

The only public transportation to the petroglyphs is to get to the KTX train station on the northwestern outskirts of Ulsan, and to take bus #348 from there. Alight at the Ulsan Daegok Museum and then walk through forested trails leading past the Cheonjeon-ri petroglyphs, the Cheonjeon-ri dinosaur footprints opposite, and then from there a 2.3 km hike through a forest trail that parallels the river to get to the Ulsan Petroglyph Museum (to the right when the trail splits) and to the Bangudae petroglyphs (to the left as the trail splits). The trail is not so well marked at the ends but once you are on it, you can't get lost. Or, take the same bus but skip the other ancient sites and the Ulsan Daegok Museum, staying on the bus to its next stop which si the Ulsan Petroglyph Museum. There alight and just walk up the road maybe a kilometer to arrive at the Bangudae cliffs. I strongly recommend the other route; it gives a better feel of the ancient and the trail through the forest is small and hardly developed. Maybe 30 minutes walking on the trail between petroglyphs but allow time to look around too.

First stop: Ulsan Daegok Museum

The museum is a salute primarily to artifacts found in the dam reservoir prior to construction. Once excavations took place and were documented, the construction of the dam went forward. The dam was build on a smaller scale and completed just a few short years (6 - 7 years) before the discovery of the Bangudae petroglyphs.  

During the planning of construction of Daegok Dam on the Daegokcheon Stream, archaeological studies were done on the areas to be submerged. The Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation conducted four trail digs from September 1999 to October 2002, and five excavations were done from March 2000 to December 2004. The excavations revealed Bronze Age dwelling sites, tombs from the Three Han States and the Three Kingdoms periods, temple and building sites, stone walls, roof tile kilns, and pottery kilns from the Unified Silla period, building sites, roof tile kilns and kilns for buncheong-ware, porcelain and onggi, and a smelting furnace from the Joseon period. Some 13,000 artifacts were excavated, revealing some of the great history the dam site played in the cultures from ancient to Joseon in the Ulsan area.

One of the artifacts of surprising beauty and original design - 오리모암토기 -
discovered facedown in a collection of round pots. 
Excavating in Hasamjeong, Samjeong-gi, the excavations revealed a cluster of ancient tombs from the village of Hasamjeong in Samjeong-ri Dudong-myeong, Ulji-gun. Excavations between 2002 and 2004 confirmed seven dwelling sites of the Bronze Age and some 1,000 ancient tombs including 129 wooden chamber tombs, 12 urn burials, two wooden chamber tombs with stone and earth mounds, and one ancient road. The ancient tomb cluster in Hasamjeong is of the largest scale and highest density of all ancient tomb clusters discovered in the Gyeongju area. These Silla Kingdom tombs date to the 2nd - 7th centuries and are thought to give insight into how ancient tombs evolved from wooden coffin tombs to wooden chamber tombs to stone-lined tombs and, finally, to chamber tombs.

Ulju Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs, National Treasure No. 187

From the Ulsan Daegok Museum walk about a kilometer to the Cheonjeon-ri petroglyphs and dinosaur footprints. These petroglyphs are registered as National Treasure No. 147, and are the first rock carving discovery in Korea, and the first cultural heritage from Ulsan to be registered as a national treasure in Korea. The carvings of numerous animals, circles, spirals, ovals and abstract designs as well as sailing boats, dragons, horses and the names of official Silla Dynasty posts were made by chiseling on the rocky surface of a 15-degree cliff incline. Some of the geometric patterns that are found over the whole surface are assumed to have been carved in the Bronze Age and they are, in most cases, interpreted as symbols for fertility and abundance rites. For this reason the Cheonjeon-ri petroglyphs have important meaning in the study of prehistoric art and ancient history.

There are also figures of humans riding horses, sailing boats, cavalry parades, and dragons. These are marked in thin lines and are presumed to have been made in the Silla Dynasty. The writings of the Silla Dynasty are presumed to have been left by Eulsa and Gimi in the 6th century. One of the drawings records that King Sabuzigalmun, a brother of King Bubheung, visited Cheonjeon-ri at dawn on the 18th of June 525. The second one is the record of Queen Gimolshae, the wife of King Sabuzigalmun, who felt irresistible yearning for her husband after the king died, and, with her little son who later became King Jinheung, visited Cheonjeon-ri where her husband's marks remained.

The Cheonjeon-ri Dinosaur Footprint Fossils

The footprints are identified as those of large and medium-sized dinosaurs (specifically the sauropod, brachiosauridae, whose weight is about 60 tons, and the Goseongosauripus, a kind of ornithopods, iguanodons) of the Lower Cretaceous period, about 100 million years ago. Along this stream, there are several places where dinosaur footprints have been discovered but this site reveals especially clear specimens.

Bangudae Petroglyphs, National Treasure No. 285

The Bangudae petroglyphs were rather densely carved imagery in a rock wall space of about 10 meters wide by 10 meters high with other rock surfaces around containing some more imagery. About 20 types of animals can be seen, including sea animals like whales, sea turtles, seals, water birds, sharks and fish. Land animals appear to a lesser extent, animals like tigers, panthers, wild boars, deer, wolves, fox and raccoon as well as people depicted hunting and their tools of boats, harpoons, floats and nets.

It is guestimated that these rock carvings were created 3500 - 7000 years BC in the Neolithic age based on results of the geographical environment research and archaeological comparative study. As Bangudae petroglyphs are a site reflecting the unique maritime fishery culture of the North Pacific coasts and the first whale hunting relics of mankind, the site is listed on the Potential World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

Unfortunately, the Bangudae petroglyphs must be looked at from across the stream. As this stream is the source of drinking water for Ulsan, wading and boating on it are prohibited.
For about 8 months of every year the petroglyphs are partially obscured by the high dam waters, damaging about 200 of the 300 carvings. Of course the number damaged is related to how high the waters are allowed to climb. This particular year is not as wet as in previous years and so the rainy season hasn't flooded the area yet, but typically in June the waters cover the floor of the stream bed and lap at the lower edges of the cliff art.

Ulsan Petroglyph Museum

Walking from the Cheonjeon-ri petroglyphs and dinosaur footprint fossils is about 2.3 kilometers, according to the sign. As the trail ends a road that leads either to the left or the right. Taking the right road will wind the walker up in minutes at the Ulsan Petroglyph Museum, shaped not so ironically, like a whale. This aerial shot best shows the head and the tail of the fat whale, which is a salute to the abundance of unique whales in the Bangudae cliff art.

The Ulsan Petroglyph Museum is dedicated to the cliff art of Korea. Models of the Cheonjeon-ri and the Bangudae petroglyphs are inside, and are supposed to be actual-sized models of the originals. The head docent of the museum even is willing to give a tour of the museum and explains in great detail the time periods of the art, the damage being done, ideas for its protection, etc. While I understood quite a lot about her description of the reproduction of the Bangudae model and its significance, my comprehension significantly dropped when she talked about the Cheonjeon-ri model -- information overload for one but also the explanation comprised descriptions of people's titles and descriptions of ceremonies of the Silla Dynasty as well as a lot more unfamiliar verbs ... well, I got a bit and that tidbit was interesting.
Creating a model using clear film and markers along with precise measurements to ensure proper alignment.
Particularly interesting to me was one whole wall in the museum that was dedicated to other petroglyphes discovered in Korea. The Cheonjeon-ri petroglyphs were the first, and very significant, but the Bangudae petroglyphs are considered the great historical treasure in relationship to detailed descriptions of prehistoric whaling culture. However, since, other smaller petroglyphs have been discovered also and do add to the pool of knowledge about ancients and their practices. Supposedly these are the total of the petroglyphs discovered in South Korea as of today.

For bus numbers getting here and to some nearby sites, go to Ulsan Tour of Ancient History: Munmu Tombs, Petroglyphs, Whaling.


  1. (Yonhap – Oct 29, 2013) Dozens of fossilized dinosaur footprints have been discovered along the rocky banks of a stream near a set of prehistoric engravings in the southeastern part of the country, a government think tank said Tuesday.

    Announcing the result of an archaeological survey, the National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage said its researchers have found 25 dinosaur footprints on a rock 25 to 30 meters northeast of the cliff with the Bangudae Petroglyphs engraves etched into its rock face.

    The survey was conducted ahead of the planned construction of a dike-like movable dam in front of the prehistoric engravings to preserve them from erosion by flood waters. The so-called “kinetic dam” will encircle the national treasure located on the lower part of the cliff in the tributary of a river, according to officials.

    South Korea plans to apply the Bangudae Petroglyphs for UNESCO world heritage designation by 2017 … the footprints appear to have been left by at least five herbivorous dinosaurs around 10 billion years ago during the cretaceous period.

    The latest discovery increased the number of sites where fossilized dinosaur footprints have been found in Ulsan to 16 with 12 of them in concentrated areas near the Daegok Stream.

    There are nine sites of fossilized dinosaur footprints in South Korea classified as natural monuments.

    Read whole article: “Dinosaur tracks found in Korea” - http://www.koreatimesus.com/dinosaur-tracks-found-in-korea/

  2. Nice articles, have just I read.
    Thank you.
    Unknown mysteries in KOREA