“No, this is… .” On March 26, 1991, the investigation team of the National Gwangju National Museum visited the Sindeok Tombs in Hampyeong, Jeollanam-do, and was at a loss for words at the sight unfolding in front of them. The excavation pit was visible on the west side of the circular part of the tomb.
Moreover, it was clear that this burial pit had been dug just a few days ago.
“The hole that was dug and refilled contained broken pine branches that had not yet dried up. Freshly cut pine trees were lying around. There were some iron scraps and small pieces of pottery scattered around the robbery pit.”
Vivid robbery traces
It was truly a ‘warm’ sign of robbery. At that time, Culture Minister Lee Ee-ryeong directly called the Prosecutor General and requested an investigation by the prosecution. It was a day when the intense prosecution investigation continued.
An unidentified visitor left the packaging box at the east gate of the National Museum of Korea in Seoul for a while and then disappeared. The person entrusted with it never showed up. Strangely enough, when I opened the box, it was ‘iron equipment’ that appeared to have been excavated from an ancient tomb. The robbers were arrested two years and six months later in September 1993.
However, 65 of the stolen items were already sold for 6 to 20 million won. At the time, the newspaper introduced that ‘The Sindeok Tombs are huge, reminiscent of the tombs of King Muryeong, excavated in 1971, and 5 to 6 of the relics sold by robbers are national treasures’.
The first Japanese-style burial mounds investigated
Aside from the investigation by the prosecution, the Gwangju National Museum and others conducted full-scale excavations for about 40 days from April.
But it was kind of weird. When the excavation was completed, it was natural to publish an excavation report to accumulate academic data.
However, after much consideration, the Gwangju National Museum decided not to publish the excavation report of the Sindeok Tomb. It only produced administrative reports for reporting purposes. Why did that happen?
This is because Sindeok Tombs were the first tombs to be officially investigated.
In Japan, it is called ‘front support mound’. The tomb is named because of the shape of ‘the front is square’ and ‘the back is round’. In Korea, it is called ‘jango tomb’ because it resembles ‘janggo’.
This type of tomb was popular in Japan from the middle of the 3rd century to the late 6th century AD. There are over 2000 units distributed throughout Japan. All the tombs of the Japanese emperors during the formation of the ancient Japanese state were of this type. The most famous tomb is the tomb of Emperor Nintoku, who died in 399 AD.
The taboo long-distance tomb controversy
It wasn’t the first time Shindeok High School was the first. Some Japanese scholars during the Japanese colonial period have argued that there are tombs similar to the Jangmo tombs (front-supported tombs) among the tombs in Deoksan-ri and Sinchon-ri, Naju, Jeollanam-do. However, after liberation, it was not mentioned at all.
Do Janggo Tombs, typical tombs of ancient Japan, exist on the Korean Peninsula? It was unimaginable for the domestic academic community. Then, in 1972, Korea University Museum Director Yoon Se-young and Kyunghee University Professor Hwang Yong-hoon claimed that “there is a tomb in Buyeo, South Chungcheong Province.” The Korean archaeological community was infested with honeycombs.
An emergency cultural heritage committee was convened to listen to the presentations of two people, Se-young Yoon and Yong-hoon Hwang. However, the reaction of the Cultural Heritage Committee members was cold. He dismissed the need for excavation as it was a nonsensical story.
In June 1983, 12 years later, Professor Kang In-gu of Yeungnam University went one step further.
It claimed that “Jangto tombs can be seen in various places such as Goseong, Gyeongnam and Naju, Yeongam, Muan, and Hampyeong in Jeollanam-do.”
It did not attract much attention from the domestic academic community. Professor Kang’s argument rather caused a big sensation in Japan. In particular, among the tombs mentioned by Professor Kang, the first tomb in Songhak-dong, Goseong, located in the Gaya area, was the focus of attention. Of course, Professor Kang asserted, “The ‘Forward Sponsorship’ (Janggobun) is not an indigenous tomb in Japan, but developed from the Korean Peninsula.”
There was no reaction from the domestic academic community. Japanese academia was divided into two branches. Mostly, elder scholars shook their heads that there was no way for a tomb to exist in the Korean Peninsula, which is considered sacred as that of the Imperial Family.
However, there are people who link the ‘Korean tombs’ with the Imna Japanese Headquarters. Some small groups were excited by Professor Kang’s claim that Jang tombs were found in Gaya, especially Goseong. Isn’t this the decisive evidence of Imna Japan?
Since then, the existence of Janggo-type tombs, such as Janggosan tombs in Haenam, Jeollanam-do and Maltombs tombs in Yongdu Village, has continued to be known.
There was also a process of reversal. In the 1970s, the ‘Chujeong Tombs’ in Buyeo, South Chungcheong Province, which became the starting point of the ‘Jang Tombs’ debate, turned out to be a natural hill. In 1999, Tomb No. 1 in Songhak-dong, Goseong, Gyeongnam, which sparked the Imna-Japanese Headquarters controversy in Japan in the 1980s, was finally determined to be a ‘ssang tomb’ rather than a ‘jangmo tomb’. However, since the mid-1980s, the tombs known one after another in the Yeongsan River basin were ‘hot potatoes’ that were difficult to deal with in academic circles. This is because there was a risk of falling into the whirlpool of the Japanese government.
The shock of the tombs
Under such circumstances, the Sindeok Tombs, known as another Janggyo Tombs, were officially excavated for the first time.
In fact, it was true that the ancient tombs in Japan were in the form of tombs. Even inside the tomb, a Japanese color could be seen. The ceiling, the four walls, and the inside of the door were all painted with lacquer. I mean, it’s painted red. In the case of the large swords excavated, the hole in the handle is similar to the remains of a tomb in Funayama, Japan (Kumamoto Prefecture, 熊本縣). In the tomb, traces of the giltsong-je coffin used in the tomb of King Muryeong were visible. Several fragments of a gilt-bronze coffin and gilt-bronze shoes were also excavated.
It is not enough that it is a Japanese-style tomb whose internal structure has been revealed for the first time in Korea, but it has a great status… . No, why did such a tomb exist in the Yeongsan River basin?
Because of such a situation, the Gwangju National Museum in charge of the excavation investigation was restless and could not publish the excavation report. It is not an exaggeration to say that I was terrified to say the least. In retrospect, there were no researchers in the Janggo tombs, that is, front-backed tombs in Korea. Isn’t there a saying that ‘Seonmudang catches people’? Why can’t I just be used by the Japanese academic community by making a report without realizing it?
There is only one example. On May 20, 1994, a major article appeared on the front page of the Asahi Shimbun in Japan.
“A tomb similar to the front-backed tomb was excavated in a tomb in Myeonghwa-dong, Gwangju, Korea. … Around the tomb, earthenware similar to the Haniwa (cylindrical earthenware) characteristic of Japanese front-backed tombs was lined up.”
The article added, “In the 6th century, ancient Japan received considerable cultural influence from Baekje and Gaya, but it proves that Japanese culture also flowed into the Korean Peninsula through active people-to-people exchanges.”
What do you mean? This article draws attention to the fact that cylindrical earthenware is erected at 50cm intervals around the tombs in Myeonghwa-dong, which are long tombs. Cylindrical earthenware (haniwa) is a tomb-making method known in Japan as earthenware erected around tombs.
The day after the Asahi Shimbun article was published (the 21st), the Gwangju National Museum, which excavated the tombs in Myeonghwa-dong, suffered great hardship.
The Blue House’s chief of education and culture called and said, “Then, does that mean that we were ruled by over there (Japan)? It was a time when Japan was about to die because of the distortion of modern and contemporary history. However, this time, Japan had a place to claim the Imna-Japan hypothesis, and the Japanese media treated it as a major article as if waiting for it, so there was no choice but to show a sensitive reaction.
Existence of ancient tombs confirmed one after another
Since then, Janggo-type tombs have been discovered one after another not only in Sindeok and Myeonghwa-dong tombs, but also in Yeongam-dong tombs in Jeollanam-do, Janggosan in Hampyeong, Wolsan-ri in Yeonggwang, and Wolgye-dong in Gwangju. After all, Janggo-type tombs were ‘Japanese-style tombs’ that only appeared in the Jeolla-do region centered on the Yeongsan River basin. That too, for just over 50 years, from the end of the 5th century to the beginning of the 6th century… .
As the excavation of ancient tombs continued and data was accumulated, a full-fledged discussion began.
The origin of this tomb was whether it was the Korean Peninsula or Japan, and whether the person who built the tomb was a Japanese (Japanese) or Baekje (or an indigenous force from Mahan). The Japanese academic community asserted that “the protrusion of a square-shaped main tomb equipped with a pit facility around the height of the square has developed into a ‘front-supported mound'” and claimed the theory of Japanese origin.
In Japan, this cemetery has spread mainly in the Kinai region, and in Kyushu, which is close to Korea, it is known that construction began in the early Kohun period (middle of the 3rd century – the 7th century).
However, Jugu-myo (a tomb with pit facilities around it) built before and after B.C. is being excavated one after another in the Jeolla-do region of the Korean Peninsula. If Jugu-myo is the predecessor of the ancient tombs, then the theory of the origins of the Korean peninsula will gain persuasive power.
However, while only 14 have been identified in the Korean Peninsula so far, over 2,000 are distributed throughout Japan. Therefore, it is a fact that although it sparkled in the Korean Peninsula (late 5th century to early 6th century), it was a pandemic for over 300 years in Japan.
■Are the tomb protagonists Korean or Japanese?
A fierce debate arose over the protagonist of the tomb.
There is also an argument that the head of the indigenous forces from Mahan at the end of the 5th century and the beginning of the 6th century wrote a tomb of the Japanese people while strengthening exchanges with the Japanese (Kyushu region, Japan). At the end of the 5th century, Baekje’s national power was weakened by the fall of Baekje’s Hanseong during the Goguryeo invasion in 475 (the 21st year of King Gaero). Or, there is an opinion that the indigenous powers from Mahan used the motto of Japan in order to appeal to the south of Baekje, which was moved from Hanseong to Ungjin.
There are also claims that the main character of the tomb is Japanese at all. In other words, there was a place like a Japanese trade center in the Yeongsan River basin. It is speculated that a prominent Japanese boss who works here may have used the ‘Forward Sponsorship’, the tomb of his hometown. Another theory is that he was a Waegye Baekje official who lived in the Yeongsan River basin and was incorporated into the Baekje nobility.
There are other theories. Among those of Korean ancestry who migrated to the Japanese archipelago, when the Gaya people established the Japanese and Yamato regimes, migrants from Mahan who were living in northern Kyushu during the turbulent period became refugees and returned to their homeland (Jeonnam).
One thing is clear. Whether the main character of the tomb is a Korean or a Japanese, it can be seen that it has nothing to do with the Imna Japanese Headquarters. If you are a Korean (whether from Baekje or Mahan), it has nothing to do with the Imna Japanese Headquarters.
The same goes for Japanese. Wasn’t it a colony that was managed in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula for about two centuries from the end of the 4th century to the beginning of the 6th century? However, Janggo tombs have been in vogue for over 50 years. Only about 14 were confirmed.
This cannot be said to be a trace of why the Japanese ruled for a long time. In addition, in the Yeongnam region, the main stage of the Imna Japanese Department, which they claim, the tombs are not visible. Also, even if it is the tomb of a Japanese who was sent to the court by Baekje according to the foreign recruitment policy, it has nothing to do with the Imna Japanese Headquarters.
The old-fashioned nationality debate
I heard some interesting news recently. In 1991, the Sindeok Tombs excavation report, which had to be satisfied with the administrative report for reporting, was published for the first time in 30 years. In line with this, a special exhibition is being held at the Gwangju National Museum until October 24 under the title of ‘Sindeok Tombs in Yedeok-ri, Hampyeong, Secret Spaces, Hidden Keys’ at the Gwangju National Museum.
I dealt with Janggo tombs in the mid-2000s.
At the time, some researchers obtained copies of administrative reports and covered the academic world’s position based on them. Because of such a relationship, I was very happy to hear of the publication of the ‘Sindeok Tombs Excavation Investigation Report’.
I received the papers of Korean and Japanese researchers to be published in the report in advance, and studied the tombs of Janggou again after about 20 years. However, the origins and nationality disputes did not change much between then and now.
others are like that I don’t know if there is an inscription that can recognize the main character like the tomb of King Muryeong. Otherwise, the nationality debate will draw eternal parallels.
What is the meaning of considering the nationality of the main character of the tomb of Janggo rather than not?
It seems that the atmosphere in academia these days has changed. It seems a bit old-fashioned to claim that you are Korean or Japanese and cut off your nationality.
In the article of the report, Professor Kim Nak-joong of Chonbuk National University (‘Bundes and Stone Chambers of the Sindeok Tombs’) described, “The Sindeok Tombs are closely related to the Japanese forces in Kyushu.” This is true in terms of the tomb form or burial facilities.
However, the trench around the tomb (jugu), the urn on the tomb path covered with a stone lid, the thinly sliced stone (juice stone), and the absence of a cylindrical earthenware (haniwa) are also not typical Japanese. The wooden coffins with coffins or coffin rings can be seen as the influence of the center of Baekje.
What are the excavated relics? Takata Kanta, a professor at the National Museum of History and Folklore of Japan, has diagrammed the remains and excavated relics of the Shindeok Tomb into Japanese and Baekje, Japanese + Baekje, and Jaeji (indigenous forces from Mahan).
According to Takata, the Japanese system includes a long-distance burial mound, a Kyushu-style stone chamber, and a braided round-ringed sword (hwandudaedo). In the Baekje system, there are decorative wooden crowns and sets of horses, jewels such as beads and shoes, and the way the wooden crowns are placed. Also, ‘wae + Baekje’ includes a gilt-bronze crown, silver decorations, and a triangular helmet (a weapon that stabs or throws with a blade at the end of a long wooden stem). In addition, the earthenware used for the tomb-gil ancestral rites shows the elements of indigenous people from Mahan.
However, among Takata’s views, there is an opinion that the gilt-bronze crown is a typical Japanese style (Professor Lee Han-sang, Daejeon University).
In addition, it is known that among the relics sold by the robbers during the prosecution’s investigation were Chinese porcelain and chodu (cooking utensils, pots). It contains all the elements of Korea, China, and Japan.
Relics of Sindeok Tombs that have not yet been recovered
It’s not just the new high school students. These complex attributes that make up the tombs can be said to be characteristic not only of the ‘Jang Tombs’ in the Yeongsan River Basin, but also the tombs of indigenous groups such as Naju Bokam-ri Tomb No. 3 and Jeongchon Tombs.
Therefore, Professor Takada, who analyzed the gilt-bronze coffins and gilt-bronze shoes excavated from the Sindeok Tombs this time, concluded, “We should not interpret the Jang Tombs in the Yeongsan River Basin as strongly reflecting the political and economic intentions of a specific political body.”
It is necessary to read the movements of the multifaceted foreign negotiation and active acceptance of foreign cemeteries in the Yeongsan River basin at that time. The contents of the report published after 30 years may not be satisfactory. So what’s the conclusion? There is nothing to say if you are asked to clearly state whether you are Korean or Japanese.
On the contrary, the answer may be that it may or may not be the case.
The Yeongsan River area from the end of the 5th century to the beginning of the 6th century may have been much more open than imagined. It is possible that Baekje people who visited Japan came back after seeing a huge Japanese tomb (a tomb sponsored by the front) and built a similar tomb. It may also be the tomb of a Japanese who became a Baekje bureaucrat or aristocrat after serving in the royal court of Baekje, which implemented the ‘foreigner preferential policy’.
In any case, how narrow it is to judge 1400 years ago based on the national feelings of the present moment.
Also, the arrested robbers at the Sindeok Tomb stated that they sold 65 of the best items of theft.
In the course of the investigation, it was revealed that national treasure-level relics were also included. However, the relics sold for 6 to 20 million won per store have not appeared for 30 years. If you bought it even though you knew it was stolen, it must have been stolen.
Of course, if it was distributed through several stages, the current collector may have bought it without even knowing it was stolen. In that case, it can be argued for ‘acquisition in good faith’. However, for whatever reason, stolen goods are no longer available for distribution.
If so, is it necessary to possess such stolen items while trembling with anxiety? If you are currently in possession of the stolen artifacts of the Sindeok Tombs, I hope you will follow the precedent set by the robbers at the front gate of the National Museum of Korea in 1991. To be able to take a step forward in the history of the enigmatic Yeongsan River basin from 1400 years ago… .
(For this article, Kyeong-do Park, Director of the Curatorial Research Department of the Gwangju National Museum, Nak-Jun Seong, former Director of the National Institute of Maritime Cultural Heritage, Hyeon-Jong Cho, former Director of the Gwangju National Museum, and Oh-Young Kwon, Professors of Seoul National University, Hansang Lee, and Chonbuk National University, provided help and materials.)