Here at Ancient Origins we receive many emails and social media messages accusing folks of willfully damaging archaeology and ancient sites of cultural heritage. Last year saw several cases of teen vandalism in the USA and in the UK and we even covered a story about the willful destruction of Native American sacred sites by an overzealous park manager.
Yesterday, we received a compassionate email from an archaeology major in South Korea, Hojun Shin, who told us that a “1 million square meter archaeological site is soon to be converted into an amusement park featuring hundreds of tons of plastic,” and he also said the plan “angers citizens in various sectors of our society.”
My editor asked me to engage with Hojun Shin and to check the validity of his apparently horrific story, and my investigation began with a December 2019 article published in Business Korea which details the plans for a new LEGOLAND project in Chuncheon, on Jungdo Island, the capital of the province.
Piecing Together the Evidence
The Business Korea news feature states that after seven years were “wasted due to disputes,” in May of this year the provincial government signed an agreement with Merlin Entertainments PLC, which operates LEGOLAND parks around the world, after what is described as “a heated debate among the 46 members of the assembly.” Planned to be built by 2021, LEGOLAND will be raised on a 1.06 million square meter archaeological site in Chuncheon, and the complex will include a theme park, resort facilities and shopping facilities, at the cost of 300 billion won, or about US $265 million.
Signs of prehistoric life had already been detected at the site in the 1960s and 80s and an archaeological exploration by the National Museum of Korea found 270 sites for dolmens and houses, proving that the “entire island is a treasure trove.” The seven years of “wasted time” were caused by a lack of funds, changes of the development company, and the pesky excavation of cultural assets and artifacts after the 2014 discovery of Korea ’s largest prehistoric site, on Jungdo Island.
An Rare and Rich Archaeological Haven
When archaeologists excavated an ancient village on Jungdo Island, including its boundary ditch, they found house foundations and several burial dolmens, a copper sword, and several fan-shaped bronze axes, all described as exceptionally “rare and academically important.” According to a 2014 Korea Joongang Daily article, the “1,400 relics from the Bronze Age ,” include 100 dolmens (stone tombs) and 900 housing sites, which prove the location is a valuable archaeological haven, still packed with artifacts left behind by those who lived on the peninsula thousands of years ago.”
In total, approximately 9000 prehistoric artifacts have been discovered, including 1266 prehistoric home features, and 149 tombs, and back in 2014 local people opposing the construction of LEGOLAND and the destruction of the massive archaeological site, petitioned that the island should feature a “Dolmen Land,” where people can experience the prehistoric way of life in Korea.
Follow the Money Path
The archaeological site measures over a million square meters and is about to be buried beneath a temple of plastic. Generally in life, when something terrible is occurring and makes no sense, “always follow the path of the money,” and reason often emerges. Thus, the next step in my investigation was to find some answers as to who had the most to gain from commercial tourist project that directly threatens Korean heritage. Naturally, I was to look at the folks who run Merlin Entertainment PLC, who will manage the new LEGOLAND.
Merlin Entertainment PLC, according to Hyung Yu Park at Heritage Tourism, manage “70 attractions in 17 countries,” including several UK heritage sites such as Warwick Castle, Madame Tussauds in London and Blackpool, Sea Life Blackpool and National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham. However, it would seem that a new LEGOLAND is more important than preserving a vast archaeological center of Korean heritage. So who then is the person who stands to gain the most from the new LEGOLAND business venture, which according to Hojun Shin, “sacrifices Korean heritage,” and enrages the public.
Identifying the Mastermind
Until November 2019, the senior independent director of Merlin Entertainment, PLC was Charles Mark Gurassa, who is also the chairman of the British television station, Channel 4, the Deputy Chairman at EasyJet, PLC and the CEO of Thomson Travel Group, PLC. This is the businessman who spearheaded the LEGOLAND project in South Korea, which directly threatens 1 million square meters of archaeology.
Where many journalists would frame-up Mr Charles Mark Gurassa as some kind of in-compassionate corporate monster crushing thousands of years of indigenous archaeology for cash, created through heaps of eco-disastrous plastic bricks, it is here impossible to do so, because Charles Mark Gurassa is the Chairman of English Heritage’s Remuneration and Appointments Committee, and a Director of English Heritage Trading Limited.
The area had been earmarked for development for years even before the LEGOLAND bid, so one assumes the prehistoric site would have been remodeled for some purpose eventually, so some mitigation that archaeologists were permitted to investigate the site thoroughly before the development. But still, another victim of the seemingly unending quest to keep us restless humans amused.