Genomes Offer Clues to Korea’s Three Kingdoms Period
An international team led by The University of Vienna and the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in collaboration with the National Museum of Korea has successfully sequenced and studied the whole genome of eight 1,700-year-old individuals dated to the Three Kingdoms period of Korea (approx. 57 BC-668 AD).
The first published genomes from this period in Korea bring key information for the understanding of Korean population history.
The Team has been led by Pere Gelabert and Prof. Ron Pinhasi of the University of Vienna together with Prof. Jong Bhak and Asta Blazyte from the UNIST and Prof. Kidong Bae from the National Museum of Korea.
The study, published in Current Biology, showed that ancient Koreans from the Gaya confederacy were more diverse than the present-day Korean population.
The eight ancient skeletal remains used for DNA extraction and bioinformatic analyses came from the Daesung-dong tumuli, the iconic funerary complex of the Gaya confederacy, and from the Yuha-ri shell mound; both archaeological sites located in Gimhae, South Korea.
Some of the eight studied individuals were identified as tomb owners, others as human sacrifices, and one, a child, was buried in a shell mound, a typical funerary monument of Southeast Asia that is not related to privileged individuals.
All burial sites are typical for the Gaya region funerary practices in AD 300-500.
“The individual genetic differences are not correlated to the grave typology, indicating that the social status in the Three Kingdoms Korea would not be related to genetic ancestry.
We have observed that there is no clear genetic difference between the grave owners and the human sacrifices” explains Anthropologist Pere Gelabert.
Six out of eight ancient individuals were genetically closer to modern Koreans, modern Japanese, Kofun Japanese (Kofun genomes are contemporaneous with individuals from our study), and Neolithic Koreans.
The genomes of the remaining two were slightly closer to modern Japanese and ancient Japanese Jomons. “This means that in the past, the Korean peninsula showed more genetic diversity than in our times,” says Gelabert.
Modern Koreans, on the other hand, appear to have lost this Jomon-related genetic component owing to the relative genetic isolation that followed the Three Kingdoms period. These results support a well-documented post- Three Kingdoms period of Korean history, suggesting that Koreans of that time were intermixing within the peninsula, and their genetic differences were diminishing until the Korean population became homogeneous as we know it today.
A detailed DNA-based facial feature prediction for the eight genomes showed that the Three Kingdoms period Koreans resembled modern Koreans.
This is the first instance of publishing an ancient individual’s face prediction using DNA-only in a scientific journal. This approach may create a precedent for other ancient genome studies to predict facial features when the skulls are extremely degraded.
Dark secrets of Korea’s famous Wolseong palace complex are unearthed
Korea JoongAng Daily reports that a young woman’s remains have been unearthed at the site of Wolseong, a Silla Dynasty (57 B.C.–A.D. 935) palace complex in eastern South Korea.
Until 2017, the legend of Koreans’ practice of human sacrifice during large-scale construction to pray for the building to stand firm for a long time, remained a horrific myth. However, the archaeological discovery of human remains in Wolseong, a palace complex of the Silla Dynasty (57 B.C.-A.D. 935) located in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, turned this myth into fact.
Remains from two people from the fifth century were discovered near the west entrance of Wolseong, throwing the nation into a state of shock. One was of a male and the other was a female. It was the country’s first archaeological evidence that proved that human sacrifice may have been a common practice for Silla people.
Remains of another female adult have been discovered, just 50 centimetres (1.64 feet) above the area where the couple was found in 2017, the Gyeongju National Institute of Cultural Heritage announced on Tuesday.
“Like the remains discovered in 2017, the recently discovered remains of a female adult showed no sign of struggle,” said Jang Ki-myeong, a researcher at Gyeongju National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage.
The woman, like the other two bodies, was laid to face the sky and is believed to have been in her 20s when she was sacrificed. The couple found in 2017 were in their 50s.
“The first thing we do when we find human remains is figuring out the gender and age,” said Kim Heon-Seok, another researcher from the institute. “Though her remains were also in good condition, her pelvis, which we use to find out the gender, was damaged, so we had to look at other things like her physique and height to figure it out.”
Like the two Silla people discovered in 2017, researchers believe the sacrificed humans are probably from lower-ranking class as they were “all quite undersized and had nutrition imbalances as seen from their teeth.”
Intact pottery was also discovered next to her head. Back in 2017, four pieces of pottery were found next to the feet of the sacrifices.
“When we did an x-ray of the pottery, we found a smaller bowl inside the jar. It looks like the larger pottery carried alcohol or some kind of liquid. It was buried together with the body,” said Jang. “This is not a common feature you witness in ancient tombs, but something similar was found at the 2017 site.”
When the remains of the two bodies were discovered, some raised the possibility that their deaths could have been accidental. But, the Cultural Heritage Administration concluded that the evidence — the remains showing no signs of struggle and the discoveries of animal bones and objects used for ancestral rites in the same area — clearly points that the pair died as part of a sacrificial ceremony.
“Now with the additional discovery, there’s no denying Silla’s practice of human sacrifice,” said Choi Byung-Heon, professor emeritus of archaeology at Soongsil University, adding that the specific location of where the remains were discovered is also important. According to Choi, the remains of three Silla people were laid on top of the bottommost layer of the fortress’s west wall, right in front of where the west gate would have been located.
“After finishing off the foundation and moving onto the next step of building the fortress, I guess it was necessary to really harden the ground for the fortress to stand strong. In that process, I think the Silla people held sacrificial rites, giving not only animals but also humans as sacrifices,” said Choi.
Geology Professor Lee Seong-Joo of Kyungpook National University also said there are records of human sacrifices in neighbouring China, by people of the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 B.C.) when constructing large buildings and these sacrifices were commonly found near entrances.
“Historical records say such rituals were carried out before making the gates or just before engaging in the most important part of the construction process,” Lee said.
“Samguksagi,” or “The Chronicles of the Three States” states that Wolseong was built in year 101 and was used for 800 years as the residence of Silla kings until Silla gave way to the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). But by studying the pieces of pottery unearthed from the fortress, researchers predicted the date of its construction to be somewhere between the fourth and fifth centuries.
There’s been a clear gap between the two, and debates among researchers. The Gyeongju National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage said it has managed to settle the debate by scientifically proving that the construction period began in the early fourth century and it took about 50 years to complete.
“By analyzing the data collected through a newly adopted technology known as AMS [Accelerator Mass Spectrometer] and cross-checking with the existing data we have, we were able to provide a more reliable construction period,” said Jang from the institute.
Does that mean there are factual errors in Korea’s historical documents?
Jang says it’s better to approach the issue as, “Why is it recorded as 101?”
“We should further the research on Wolseong and try to find out what may have resulted in making such a record,” Jang added. “Wolseong is a vast research area not only in terms of its literal size but also academically and historically.”
The official excavation research of Wolseong began in December 2014.
Literally translated as “moon castle” in English, Wolseong, which is also listed at Unesco World Heritage, measures more than 200,000 square meters and is considered one of the most important historical sites in Korea as it was the seat of the Silla Dynasty. Compared to its historical weight, the Wolseong area had been left largely unexplored.
The government previously conducted several different inspections and excavations, which resulted in the discovery of the remains of 20 Silla people, just 10 meters away from the site where the recent remains were discovered, during two separate inspections in 1985 and 1990. Researchers at the Gyeongju National Institute of Cultural Heritage believe the discoveries are of great significance but have yet to conclude if the remains were part of sacrificial rites.
“As for the remains of the 20 people, only three people’s remains were in good condition while the rest were just scattered across a vast area with animal bones,” said Jang. “It is certain that they are related to Wolseong but we need to conduct more research to find out if they were human sacrifices.”
Researchers believe they may discover more human remains in Wolseong, but more importantly, “so much more about the unknown 1,000 years of Silla,” said Jang.
“We’ve discovered the method of building Wolseong, which mainly used soil,” said Ahn So-Yeon, a researcher from the institute. “We’ve discovered how Silla people mixed stones, pieces of wood, seeds of fruits and grains with soil to make the fortress stronger.”
Professor Lee from Kyungpook National University said Silla had built the strongest and highest fortress compared to Goguryeo and Baekje.
“The fundamental power of unification can also be found in the fortress. A more specific time period and the revealed methodology are significant to the researchers of this field,” Lee said.
Full set of gilt-bronze accessories from the 6th-century tomb
The Korea Times reports that additional finds were recovered from a small 1,500-year-old tomb in eastern South Korea where a pair of gilt-bronze shoes were recently excavated from a Silla-era royal tomb complex in Gyeongju, some 371 kilometers southeast of Seoul. These included a small gilt-bronze coronet, gold earrings, bracelets, a silver ring, and silver belt, and a beaded chest lace, or a piece of regalia worn across the chest and shoulders.
In addition to the gilt-bronze shoes and gilt-bronze accessories, it added, found in May at the same tomb. For the first time since the early 1970s, the CHA has excavated a complete body of ornaments of a buried person from a tomb in the Silla era.
The deceased buried in the Hwangnamdong Tumulus No. 120-2, presumed to be either an aristocrat or person of royal blood, wore a gilt-bronze coronet, a pair of earrings, and a pair of gilt-bronze shoes, according to the CHA. A chest lace, belts, bracelets, and rings were also found at the same time.
According to researchers, the gilt-bronze cap-like coronet features three tree-like branches and two antler-like prongs, with the outer band decorated with heart-shaped holes and jade and gold marbles.
Along with a pair of gold earrings and a beaded chest lace, the person also carries a silver belt and a handful of silver bracelets and rings. One bracelet on the right wrist is embellished with more than 500 yellow beads about 1 millimeter small.
Both pairs of shoes had T-shaped carve-out patterns on the surface, decorated each with gilt-bronze “dalgae,” a bracelet-like ornament made with beads. Usually, shoes buried in ancient tombs of Silla were created for funeral ceremonies.
The CHA said the height of the owner of the tomb is estimated at 170 centimeter, as it is 176 cm from the middle of the gilt-bronze cap to the shoes. But the sex of the deceased was difficult to discern at the moment, it added.
“This is a small-sized tomb, but the owner has the full set of accessories. It is expected to be possessed by a noble or royal-blooded person,” a researcher from the CHA said. “We’ve found many new things from this project. We will keep studying the case.”
The excavation was part of a project between the CHA and the Gyeongju city aimed at restoring major historic ruins linked to the capital of the Silla dynasty.
Gyeongju is home to three UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites: Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto, Yangdong Village, and the Gyeongju Historic Areas. Daereungwon is part of the Gyeongju Historic Areas. (Yonhap)
NORTH GYEONGSANG PROVINCE, SOUTH KOREA—According to a Korea Herald report, a pair of gilt-bronze shoes thought to date to the late fifth or early sixth century A.D. was found in one of three tombs at a burial site in Gyeongju, the ancient capital of the Silla Kingdom in eastern South Korea.
The tomb also contained saddles, bronze ware, iron pots, and earthenware. Researchers from the Silla Cultural Heritage Research Institute said such shoes were covered with T-shaped holes and were only used for funeral ceremonies.
The shoes were newly excavated from an ancient Silla tomb in Gyeongju for the first time in 43 years.
A pair of gilt bronze shoes, a silver plate to embellish a belt, and horse harness ornaments were excavated from Tomb No. 120-2 in Hwangnam-dong, Gyeongju, the Cultural Heritage Administration announced on Wednesday.
Gilt bronze shoes from the Silla Kingdom were intended for funerals, not everyday use. This is the first time that such shoes were found from an ancient Silla tomb in Gyeongju since 1977 in ancient tombs in Inwang-dong.
The pair of shoes featuring T-shaped holes on the surface and Buddhist gilt bronze ornaments were discovered near the feet of the buried body.
The excavation process for the shoes is still ongoing as of Wednesday. Gilt bronze shoes of a similar shape were found from the southern mound of Hwangnam DaeChong tomb in Gyeongju.
“The presence of gilt bronze shoes suggests that the buried person was from a royal family,” said senior researcher Kim Kwon-il at the Silla Cultural Heritage Research Center, which is in charge of the excavation.
In addition, a silver plate to embellish a belt was found near the legs and several Buddhist gilt bronze ornaments were found near the head.
The Cultural Heritage Administration said the Buddhist ornaments may have been used as part of or to decorate a hat. For grave goods, various horse harness ornaments, including a gilt bronze saddle and other gilt bronze embellishments, bronze irons, cast iron cauldrons, and earthware were found.
Tomb No. 120 in Hwangnam-dong is located in the Daereungwon royal tomb site. A tomb number was assigned but the past existence of an ancient tomb was unclear as a private residence was built on the site.
The Cultural Heritage Administration and the Gyeongju municipal government identified additional tombs in the north and south of Tomb No. 120 during its excavation last year.
S. Korea identifies 4 Korean War soldiers from remains found in DMZ
The bones of the soldier and its relics were excavated in arrowhead ridge in the central section of the inter-Korean border in Cheorwon, Gangwon Province, a region of heinous battles in the 1950-53 Korean War that is now inside the Demilitarized Zone.
The Ministry for Defense, on Monday, has just named four soldiers killed in a war that has been identified.
A sergeant first class, a staff sergeant and two sergeants are believed to have died in the fourth battle that took place on Arrowhead Ridge, now inside the DMZ, about two weeks before a truce ending the Korean War was signed July 27, 1953.
A National Defense Agency for Killed in Action Recovery and Identification (MAKRI) taskforce conducted excavation work on the ridge, a central section of the inter-Korean border in Cheorwon, Gangwon Province, between April and November last year.
The team identified another three soldiers last year.
“Numerous items were found with the remains of the four soldiers, such as water bottles, ammunition, identification tags, insignias, certificates, bayonets, combat shoes, and helmets,” the team said in a press release.
“The four soldiers participated in the Korean War at the age of twenty. Among them, three were married and each had a child left behind with their wives.”
The team said the identification of the dead soldiers was possible thanks to genetic sampling conducted on around 40,000 bereaved family members. But it said it still needs to collect more samples.
Through the excavation conducted last year, the team found about 2,000 bones believed to be from over 260 soldiers as well as 67,000 war items in the DMZ area.
It is estimated that there the remains of over 10,000 war dead are in the area.