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A mysterious Jeju lava tube opens to the publicYongcheon Lava Tube artifact exhibition is on at Jeju National Museum from June 14 to Aug. 21
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승인 2011.06.14  15:53:40
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When the Korean Electric Power Corporation asked Bukjeju County to conduct a feasibility study on the installation of utility poles in Woljeong-ri back in 2005, a cave expert mentioned the possibility of caves in the area and suggested that drilling be done to check the earth’s structure. It was during this drilling expedition that on May 11, 2005, that a previously unknown cave was discovered.

From June 14 to Aug. 21, the Jeju National Museum in collaboration with the World Natural Heritage Management Bureau of Jeju Province will host a special exhibition to introduce the mystery of the 3.4km-long Yongcheon Lava Tube by displaying 70 excavated artifacts and animal bones. This event is held to commemorate the museum’s 10th anniversary and the 4th anniversary of the tube’s designation as a World Natural Heritage.

▲ Ancient ceramics found in Yongcheon Cave. Photo courtesy Jeju National Museum

▲ A complete skeleton of a wild boar also found in the cave. Photo courtesy Jeju National Museum

The Yongcheon Lava Tube has a variety of well developed geological features such as lava stalactite, lava stalagmite, and even shares characteristics that are only found in limestone caves. The tube was designated as Korea Natural Monument No. 446 in 2006, and a UNESCO World Natural Heritage in 2007.

During the excavation of the Yongcheon Lava Tube from 2009 to 2010, researchers found not only earthen pottery and iron wares from the Unified Silla Period (668 CE – 935 CE), but also shellfish, animal bones, wooden fragments, and others.

The reason why only artifacts from the Unified Shilla Period were discovered has not been yet answered, resulting in more questions like what was the function of the tube during the Unified Shilla Period and did the cave close naturally or with human intervention? Also, the excavated pottery is different from those most commonly found on Jeju from that period and are very similar to artifacts discovered on the southern area of the Korean peninsula.

▲ Various tools. Photo courtesy Jeju National Museum

Even though this suggests the possibility of Jeju’s active trading with other places at that time, experts do not know the exact reason. However, all of this shows that Yongcheon Lava Tube has a high historical value that is worth to study in future.

As for the animal bones, there were those of badgers, wild pigs, roe deer, mountain goats, mice, snakes, and shells like abalone and mussel, and other shellfish. Among them, there is a complete wild pig skeleton that measures 103 centimeters and is assumed to have been one years old. Found inside the tube on a small hill 200 meters away from the lake, the bones were nearly assembled and well preserved. The bones will be studied to better understand the animals of Jeju during the Unified Shilla Period.

▲ The Yongcheon exhibition runs from June 14 to Aug. 21 at Jeju National Museum in Jeju City. Photo by Kim Jung Lim

Jang Je Geun, Jeju National Museum curator, said that he and others tried to reproduce the tube and display the remains interestingly with the entrance to the exhibition hall designed as the interior of the Yongcheon Lava Tube. To compare the pottery found within the tube, those from southern parts of Korea will also be displayed, and people can watch the photos of other Jeju lava tubes and volcanic activity, and there will be a 3D video of Jeju’s nature.

In addition, the museum will have booth where spectators can make bookmarks stamped with patterns of the excavated pottery and sketch the animal bones found within the tube. Also, elementary students will be able to make the clay models of the pottery.

Jang added, “I wish this exhibition will promote the World Natural Heritage Jeju actively and contribute to the New7Wonders of Nature campaign in progress.”

Shin Young Ho, the chief curator also said that this exhibition will inform people of its historical value along side its geological value since the Yongcheon Lava Tube is like a time-capsule from the Unified Shilla Period. He also said that we still have many questions left unanswered, which is our assignment we have to dig from now on.

▲ Photo by Kim Jung Lim
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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