The Daegokcheon Stream Petroglyphs are a work of inscribed rock art engraved on three-kilometer-long cliffs located in the Daegokcheon Stream, which include the Petroglyphs of Bangudae Terrace in Daegok-ri, Ulju (National Treasure No. 285) and the Petroglyphs of Cheonjeon-ri, Ulju (National Treasure No. 147).
The upper reaches of the Daegokcheon Stream, where the Daegokcheon Petroglyphs are located, have remained nearly intact in their natural state since the prehistoric age, along with diverse relics that date from the prehistoric age to the historic era. Not only the prehistoric ecosystem but also the harmonious relationship between nature and humans from the starting point of the historic age to the modern era can be found in this historic site.
"Bangudae" means "a tall, flat rock resembling a tortoise." The rocks between the Bangudae and the Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs and their surrounding area boast beautiful scenery in this site. During the Joseon period (1392-1910), this scenic location served as a gathering place where the literati class indulged in poetry and music, and the many inscriptions and drawings engraved on these rocks reflect their enjoyment of the place. In this sense, Daegokcheon Stream, which links the two petroglyph sites, serves as a "living museum" where diverse relics dating from the prehistoric era to the historic age are organically connected.
The rock face of Bangudae, measuring three meters in height and ten meters in length, is located on the lower part of a 30-meter-tall cliff that faces north. The eastern end (left-hand side) of the rock face, which curves to the west, bears numerous traces of rock art, but has been exposed to severe weathering. More engravings are distributed around the center of the rock face, which is well preserved. More than 300 images were found through investigations.
The engraved images include: humans (14), animals (193), ships (5), tools (6), and unknown (78). Animals, both sea animals and land animals, are depicted as being pregnant, indicating the ancient people's earnest desire for securing food and fertility.
Among sea animals, whales are particularly numerous. They are varied in type and depicted in a level of detail that has earned the monument its reputation for being the world's most famous whale petroglyphs. The many images of whales suggests that they were an object of worship for pre-modern people who lived in this area during the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, and signify their beliefs about life, death, and the afterlife.
Both the peck-and-polish technique and grinding methods were used for the engravings, and the images were made by chiseling out (1) the silhouettes of the figures, or (2) detailed line drawings, including the figures' bones and organs. These methods of carving and detailing provide significant information about both the petroglyphs-helping to estimate their age by analyzing the techniques and overlapping of images-and its cultural characteristics-based on other cultures that used the same techniques.
The Bangudae rock art is presumed to date back from the late Neolithic Age to the Bronze Age. The remaining images, which number about 300 and feature a variety of humans and animals against the backdrop of land and sea, constitutes a precious heritage, both culturally and academically, as few such examples have been found around the world.
The Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs include the earliest engravings in Korea. The Petroglyphs' most unique feature is their overlapping images, which include animal and human figures from the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age, abstract patterns presumably from the middle Bronze Age, line engravings of humans and animals from the Iron Age, and inscriptions from the Three Kingdoms Period and the Unified Silla.
In this regard, the site where the Cheonjeon-ri rock art sits and its surrounding area are presumed to have long been considered sacred, from the prehistoric age to the historic era.
The earliest engravings of animals and humans in the Cheonjeon-ri rock art, which are believed to have been influenced by Siberian culture, are recognized as invaluable materials for the genealogy of prehistoric Korean culture. While the Bangudae Petroglyphs are known for their images of sea animals, the Cheonjeon-ri rock carvings mostly consist of land animals, especially large-horned deer. Thus, both sites are significant as they can be compared to each other, and both aid in the study of cultural change. The Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs date back to the late Neolithic Age or the early Bronze Age.
The abstract images of the Cheonjeon-ri rock art that are presumed to date back to the middle Bronze Age include many continuous overlapping lozenge patterns, concentric circles, spirals, and zigzags. Although no clear explanations have been made of these images as they are very rare on the Korean Peninsula, similar abstract patterns have been discovered in Siberia and northern China. This serves as evidence of the close relationship between the prehistoric cultures of Korea and Siberia.
Very strong, sharp iron tools were used for the line engravings from the Iron Age in the Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs. The engraved lines are too thin to be discernible. The features include a procession of people on horseback or leading horses, people on sailboats, animals that look like dragons, concentric circles, spirals, entangled straight lines, and human figures wearing clothes that are also found on pottery from the Three Kingdoms Period. These images are presumed to date to around the 5th or 6th century, as are the nearby inscriptions, but both are hardly connectable with respect to content; therefore, the drawings are believed to predate the inscriptions. These images are believed to depict the earliest form of the Silla costume during the Three Kingdoms Period.
The inscriptions, the latest carvings on the Cheonjeon-ri rock panel, are about Hwarang, or the aristocratic youth corps of Silla, who were trained there. The records include the young members' names, years, their training programs, and stories about the king and the royal family. The royal family's Taoistic practices and offerings to the heavens, as well as the relationship among royal family members, have been found. These rare records have earned the inscriptions their reputation as invaluable monuments.
The Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs are surrounded by various other petroglyphs including the engravings of human footprints, making it the most plentiful area for prehistoric rock art on the Korean Peninsula.
The Daegokcheon Stream area, where many prehistoric relics including petroglyphs are distributed, has been very well preserved, and the beautiful scenery has served as a good venue for many people to enjoy nature and cultural activities. This is why systematic measures for preservation of the two petroglyph sites are needed.