▲ Experts hope that the excavation of a prehistoric site in Samyang, on Jeju’s northeastern coast, will uncover secrets buried in Jeju’s distant past. Photo courtesy Jeju National University Museum
No one knows exactly when Jeju first began to appear on maps of Korea and world history. Also, it is unknown when humans first arrived on the island. However, there are relics of ancient people around the Jeju Island so that people can presume when Jeju’s history began.
Archaeologists agree that the earliest human culture in Jeju was established during the Paleolithic age, about 500,000 to 10,000 years ago. The traces of the earliest settlers in Jeju were found in the Billemot Cave site in Aewol-eup. Chopping tools made by direct percussion, lithic flakes and cores as well as the bones of animals originating from the continent were discovered at this Paleolithic site.
Many experts say that the bones of a brown bear particularly show that Jeju was once linked with the continent, with people freely migrating to and from today’s Korean peninsula, China and Kyushu of Japan.
Jeju became an island 20,000 years ago, as the sea level rose following the recession of the polar glaciers, bringing drastic environmental changes to the flora and fauna.
Also, the Cheonji pond area of Seogwipo city, where the scrapers and blades were discovered, is believed to be a prehistoric site related to the people of the Upper Paleolithic Age, who successfully adapted to the changed environment.
The other prominent prehistoric sites are in Samyang-dong, Jeju City (2,500 years old), Gosan-ri, Hangyeong-myeon, Noth Jeju County (7,000 years old), and dolmens of tribal heads from the Stone age, scattered around the island.
The earliest Neolithic settlement on Jeju can be found at the Gosan-ri site in Hangyeong-myeon, on the western side of Jeju Island. Containing about 5,000 stone arrowheads, the Gosan-ri site also produced 1,000 earthenware vessels which prove that Jeju people lived on fishing and hunting, while the earthenware pottery indicates the presence of primitive agriculture.
Archaeologists also unearthed a large amount of chipped stone tools as well as primitive plain coarse pottery (Gosan-ri style pottery) and pottery with appliqué decoration, which are known to be the oldest style of pottery found in Korea. The massive excavations show the Jeju natives’ transition from hunter-gatherer to farmer.
Samyang-dong prehistoric area was discovered in 1996 during land reclamation work. The site is currently the earliest example of a large-scale settlement’s appearance not only in Jeju but also in Korea. Archaeologists say that it dates from the Bronze Age through the early Iron Age.
Various types of relics were unearthed in dwelling places, such as pottery with red-line decorations, stone and iron axes, knives, bronze swords, grains and beans. The site provides evidence of a hierarchical society and trade with China as well as the architectural evidence of the early settlements of Jeju. Also, the relics of the Samyang-dong site show that the settlers of the island from the period built large communities in the coastal areas, engaging in fishing and farming as well as trading with neighboring areas to create wealth.
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