Ancient Tomb in Songje-ri, Naju, belonged to ruling class during King Seong of Baekje Dynasty, findings show
- International Cooperation Division
Archaeologists from the Naju National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage have uncovered a silver ornament of government official’s hat, a bronze cup, parts of horse’s harness, an amber accessory believed to be made during King Seong (r 523-554) 1 of Baekje Dynasty (18 B.C.-A.D. 660) from Ancient Tomb in Songje-ri, Naju2 in Korea’s South Jeolla Province.
The silver ornament of government official’s hat suggests that the tomb belonged to ruling class of Baekje. The silver ornament which depicts blades of grass is rare, as silver ornaments of government official’s hats from this era usually portray flower buds.
1. Son of King Muryeong, King Seong declared the city of Buyeo as the new capital in 538 and renamed the dynasty as ‘Nam Buyeo.’ He sought active exchanges with China’s Liang dynasty (502-557) and propagated Buddhism to Japan. He streamlined central and local governments to strengthen royal authority.
2. Located in Seji-myeon, Naju-si, Jeolla Namdo, Ancient Tomb in Songje-ri, Naju is Korea’s province-designated cultural heritage, ‘Monument No. 156 of Jeolla Namdo.’
Archaeologists first found out about the tomb when it was robbed in 1987. In 2000, they conducted an on-site study of its stone chamber, through which they learned that the chamber has a dome-style ceiling and lime-covered walls.
The tomb garnered much interest from historians due to its proximity to a group of tombs that feature onggwan, a unique form of clay coffins that local settlements created. Onggwan, which is large enough to fit in an adult male, can only be found in this region.
Naju National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage has been conducting archaeological exploration of the Ancient Tomb in Songje-ri, Naju from November of last year. It is also part of the institute’s efforts to document findings from damaged tombs in the region. The exploration of this tomb will conclude in September.
Archaeologists were able to identify the size and structure of the tomb and how and when it was constructed. They also discovered a new tomb nearby in the process. The silver ornament of a hat, parts of horse’s harness and other artifacts provide new clues to a political entity in the Yeongsangang River area.
Historians believe there was an independent polity in the Yeongsangang River area and archaeological findings also show local settlements had a distinct culture. Historians, however, are divided as to when that political entity collapsed and Baekje took control of the Yeongsangang River area.
TOMB AND ITS STRUCTURES
The tomb measures 20 meters in diameter and 4.5 meters in height. There is a ditch around the tomb where archaeologists unearthed about 200 pieces of earthenware.
The stone chamber was built above a one-meter-high foundation. It is at a ground level, which archaeologists say is rare for tombs of this era.
There is a 4.2-meter-long hallway to hyeonsil, the room where the deceased is laid. This room is in a rectangular form, measuring 3 meters in length, 2.7 meters in width and 2.5 meters in height.
Archaeologists have also discovered a new tomb that had not been reported previously. Its stone chamber, however, is significantly damaged.
Silver ornaments of government official’s hats3 are generally unearthed from the tombs of ruling class of Baekje Dynasty. But the ornament found from this tomb depicts blades of grass, unlike ornaments uncovered in the past which usually portray flower buds.
1. Silver ornaments of government official’s hats from this era usually feature symmetry of one or two pairs of flower buds on the upper part. Government officials above the rank of nasol (sixth-highest rank) wore this on their forehead.
They are all made of silver, and the techniques used are the same. Craftsman made thin silver boards and cut out certain forms. Then they would fold to make symmetrical patterns. Historians believe the ornament from this tomb is the earlier form of such standardized hat ornaments.
Archaeologists also found parts of a belt. They include elongated ends; buckles shaped like a mushroom; parts where a person can hang a sword or quiver, which is shaped like a heart.
The buckles, in particular, do not have a needle, from which historians believe the artifact is produced in a transitional period when Baekje’s capital was changed to Buyeo (then called Sabi) from Gongju (then called Ungjin).
A bronze cup, an amber accessory and a part of an ornamental knife are similar to those found in the Tomb of King Muryeong. The nail used to seal the coffin has round head and is covered with silver, like those from the tombs of the Baekje ruling class.
Archaeologists also uncovered parts of horse’s harness. They include stirrups whose surfaces are bi-forked and uneven, to be skid-proof. These are similar to those found in Gyeongsan-ri, Uiryeong and Okbong, Jinju. They also unearthed a buckle for dirt guards. They are similar to those from Fortress No. 2 of Hongryeonbong, Seoul; Okjeon, Hapcheon and Michu Royal Tombs in Gyeongju.
WHAT FUTURE HOLDS
These relics suggest that the tomb in Songje-ri, Naju belonged to a high-ranking government official who was active during the reign of King Seong. The ornaments were clearly part of the wardrobe worn by high-ranking government official during Baekje Dynasty.
Historians, however, will have to examine further to understand better why such a tomb is situated far away from Bokam-ri and the Bannam region in Naju, the center stage of the Yeongsangang River history.
Once the exploration of the Ancient Tomb in Songje-ri, Naju is concluded, Naju National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage plans to conduct safety check and maintenance procedure. It will then restore the tomb so that locals can visit.
The institute will continue to play the pivotal role in the study of ancient cultures in the Yeongsangang River region and work on various ways to preserve and manage cultural heritage sites in the region that are of high academic value.