Rewrite history of the world

The Jungdo heritage site and Legoland in Chuncheon

CHA Min-a (Asia Developmnet Foundation)

More than 3,000 remains have been excavated in Jungdo, Chuncheon in the Republic of Korea. Most of them are from the Bronze Age, and in particular, 170 dolmens found on the site are so unique that would rewrite the history and archaeological history of the world.

The Jungdo remains show the shape of ancient villages that formed a dense settlement across the Korean Peninsula during the period of the Neolithic Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. The most remarkable point is a group of dolmens that appears as if describing the encyclopedia of Jiseokmyo(dolmens).

Pit-type dolmen in Jungdo / LEE Gi-hwan

Although the academic scholars have been conclusively considering that dolmens were made to bury the rulers or related to them of the Bronze Age, the Jungdo dolmens vividly show the ancient life styles so the existed theory could be revised.

A group of 48 dolmens has been found with the tombs lined up in the form of a planned graveyard with 3 rows and the small dolmens like 5-6-year-old child’s ones, and such amount of dolmens and remains have not been seen before.

A large number of precious artifacts – 9,222 pieces such as gold, earrings, and pottery – representing the Bronze Age have been discovered on the housing site. It is also the first time that bronze axes and mandolin-shaped bronze daggers, which symbolize those in power, have been found at the housing site south of central part of the Korean Peninsula, along with stone arrowheads and pommel fittings. By far, the mandolin-shaped bronze daggers have been found only in the tombs of tribal leaders, but due to the Jungdo relics, it has been revealed that the daggers were commonly used even in the normal houses at that time.

Relics from Jungdo Stone arrowheads / Cultural Heritage Administration
A relic from Jungdo Mandolin-shaped bronze daggers / Cultural Heritage Administration

The Jungdo historic site in Chuncheon, where shows that people had lived for about 3,000 years.
What decision will the Korean government make over the evidence that people had lived in the Korean Peninsula in ancient times?

Jungdo is a beautiful island in Chuncheon, Gangwon-do Province in the Republic of Korea. As always, the discovery of remains begins with the development of the city. In 2008, the Lego Inc. announced the plan to construct the world’s largest “Legoland” in Jungdo, Chuncheon.

However, Jungdo has become a treasure trove of prehistoric sites because the Hard-plain Pottery was discovered around 1977, more than 40 years ago. Since then the remains of the Stone Age such as the semilunar-shaped stone knives have been found. Moreover, through five times of the large-scale excavations conducted between the 1980s and 1996, 270 remains had been found, and another around 200 relics were investigated in 2011.

Starting to host the “Legoland” in Chuncheon in 2011, Gangwon-do Province had continued to excavate the area until 2017 under the Cultural Heritage Protection Act.

As many as 1,400 bronze artifacts were found in the first excavation, conducted to promote the project in 2013. In addition, 101 of dolmens, 917 of housing sites, 355 of storage pits, 9 of high-floor housing sites and long ditch to protect the village were excavated. It was the first time that such a large number of dolmens have been excavated in Gangwon-do Province. Besides, the Deep-bowl Pottery and Gakmokdoldaemun Pottery were also found in the housing site. There are the standard relics, indicating that the age of the site dates back to the early Bronze Age, which is between 14th and 12th centuries BC.

A bronze axe and mandolin-shaped bronze dagger / Cultural Heritage Administration

The representative relics of the Gojoseon era – the name of an ancient Korean nation – such as the mandolin-shaped bronze daggers and bronze axes were also excavated, which are the first ones to be found at the housing sites in the Republic of Korea. A ditch, as an enclosure, of 404 meters(Hwanho) to protect the village from invasion of outsiders and cultivated remains, proving that people had farmed at that period have been discovered.

More 650 remains were found in the second excavation in 2015, and another 1,243 in the final, reaching the total number of 3,300 excavated relics.

No. 285 of a large-scale housing site / Cultural Heritage Administration

Lutz Fiedler, an archaeology professor at the University of Marburg, Germany, said about the Jungdo remains, “The remains are massive, unique and magnificent. Just by looking at it, its quality and scale are overwhelming. Moreover, not only are the remains valuable, but also each and every structure and system excavated there reflect a high level of culture. They have lasted for ages, more than 3000 years, and should not be damaged under any circumstances”. And he added that Jungdo is valuable enough to be compared to the Stonehenge and Machu Picchu.

Out of around 1,000 dwellings excavated in Jungdo, about two-third are classified as the ones of middle and late Bronze Age. Assuming that there were five or six people per household during the mid and late Bronze Age, 4,000 to 5,000 people were estimated to live in the period, meaning that it would be a massive village. Given the density of the population of the time, such a large city could be an early stage of state level beyond a commander’s society or a political group in the Gojoseon era.

It is said that the Jungdo site looks like an ancient planned city, with a total number of about 3,300 remains – each ditch(enclosure) of the Bronze Age and the Proto Three Kingdoms, 1,423 of housing sites, 166 of dolmens and so on – and each space for residence, production, farming and burying surrounded by the enclosure.

Considering many agricultural sites – fields – excavated in Chuncheon, it is thought that people during the Bronze Age were engaged in dry-field farming. It is highly likely that Jungdo was the center of a large-scale community in the area of Chuncheon, as the square-shaped ditch(enclosure), large amount of housing sites and storage pits were excavated along with the groups of farmers’ houses and dolmens.

From now, the features and values of the Jungdo remains will be examined based on two things – the ditch(enclosure) that shows the lifestyle of the time and the dolmens that represent the tomb remains.

1) Ditch(enclosure; Hwanho)
A ditch(enclosure) excavated in Jungdo / Cultural Heritage Administration

The ditch is a defensive facility that digs around the village to protect the invasion of animals or enemies. The square-shaped ditch of the Bronze Age with a circumference of 404 meters was found in the center of the residential area, around which 917 housing sites are concentrated.

The mandolin-shaped bronze dagger, a representative relic of the Bronze Age in the Korean Peninsula, was excavated with the stone pommel fittings in the square-shaped residential area, while the bronze axes and the bronze pommel fittings were done in large-sized rectangular dwellings. The fact that ritual bowls made by jade were found in the massive-scale of rectangular housing sites shows the identity of the rulers.

In particular, 10 pieces of the polished stone arrowhead were found with the bronze axes and decorations for the bronze daggers in the big housing sites, and it is important to note that the finished goods were excavated in a single building. It means that it can prove the emergence of rulers and provide the information on the villages of the Bronze Age, and thus, it has a great historic value to rewrite the ancient history of the Korean Peninsula.

The ditch(enclosure) was created for the purpose to defend the village. The area surrounded by the ditch was divided based on the purposes such as rulers’ house, warehouse, production facilities, large buildings, public spaces, ritual ceremony, and so forth, and also, had the facilities to protect. It means that the ditch in Jungdo could be seen as a special zone like the administrative center of the community at that time.

The Jungdo site was introduced in the world-renowned archaeological magazine as the largest village remains of the Bronze Age in the Korean archaeological history.

2) Dolmens (Stone tombs)
A group of dolmens in rows / Cultural Heritage Administration

The particularly notable remains in the Jungdo site are the dolmens in rows with various forms. More than 170 dolmens were identified during an emergency excavation conducted by the Gangwon Province under the Store Cultural Heritage Protection Management Act to construct the Legoland. Considering the fact that the dolmens of the Bronze Age are concentrated in the area, it is estimated that a large number of dwellings used to be formed there during the period.

The dolmens found in Jungdo are not the type of table(northern type) nor the baduk board(southern type) that have been commonly seen. But a pit-type, which makes a circular or square-shaped grave hole with many stones and then covers it with stones, was largely used in Jungdo.

Since the type of dolmens in Jungdo are varied, it is difficult to explain their features one by one. They are classified into large, medium and small by its size, and also, into circular and square by its shape. Besides, they are also distributed in a row. As the custom and system of the tombs in the society of Jungdo, the large ones are for the rulers and the others are for the people of the ruling class.

A group of the pit-type dolmens excavated in the center of Jungdo in 2014 were arranged in three rows in a large area of 250 meters long, which is a valuable relic to see the hierarchy of the community. Given the large-scale residential areas excavated with the dolmens, it is thought that the residents and their burial habits are very closely related. And it is believed that the rulers and people in the ruling class would be buried in the common areas where the massive stone graveyard was built.

The form or structure of the stone tombs in Jungdo is very similar to the one seen in the ‘Hongshan Culture’ of the Niuheliang remains in Liaoning Province, China. In the remains, various types of stone tombs form a massive graveyard, consisting of single, two or large groups of tombs. Chinese scholars estimate that the tombs date back to around 3000 B.C. and define the society as the ‘national-level’.

Pit-type dolmen in Jungdo / LEE Gi-hwan
Aerial photograph of Jungdo, Chuncheon / Cultural Heritage Administration

As being the ‘world’s largest prehistoric urban relic’ and having plenty of remains and relics across the area, Jungdo in Chuncheon is the heritage site where any development activities are not allowed. After around four years of joint excavation with the participation of seven teams, the head of the joint team called Jungdo as a ‘world-class historic site like a historic palace’.

Nevertheless, the Gangwon-do provincial government has not preserved the Jungdo site, but severely destroyed it in the process of developing the Legoland for 9 years since its hosting in September in 2011.

In the end, of the total area of 1,27 million square meters, the Cultural Heritage Administration and Gangwon-do Province decided preserve only the remains of 61,500 square meters of the Bronze Age and 32,000 square meters of the Iron Age and the Three Kingdom Period. The Gangwon Jungdo Development Corporation, which is in charge of its project, planned to make historic parks of the Bronze Age and Proto Three Kingdom Period in two places by moving and displaying the excavated remains, and also build an exhibition hall. It can be seen as the result of consideration for development, preservation and utilization.

But the remains have already been damaged. Out of 170 dolmens distributed in various ways based on the size and hierarchy, about 120 have been covered with soils. And the remaining 55 have been demolished and put them aside under the name of ‘Japseok’ which means the miscellaneous stones in Korean. In addition, only 30 of the 55 dolmens will be relocated and restored to the park of the Bronze Age. Even the bigger problem is that the large-scale housing sites and agricultural remains have already been buried and molded. In other words, just 30 dolmens, less than one-hundredth of the 3,300 remains that have been excavated, will be relocated and restored to the historic park.

The area, where the construction of Legoland started, is the unique large-scale graveyard of the rulers’ dolmens of the Bronze Age, with around 50 dolmens made in 240 square meters wide. A large six-story hotel will be built in a place where the construction was first started with the aim of completing it by May 2021. A large column of reinforced concrete is being raised after inserting a file into a rock 10 meters below the ground, where 50 dolmens were demolished. When the construction of Legoland is completed, the Jungdo historic site will be disappeared for good.

A bird’s-eye view of Legoland / Gangwon Jungdo Development Corporation

The developer, ‘Merlin Entertainment’ from the United Kingdom, and Gangwon-do Province set the location of the center of the Jungdo historic site, where there are large-scale dolmens, as the center of Legoland. As soon as excavated, the dolmens were eliminated for the construction of the main building – firstly planned as a 15th-floor hotel. After relocating the dolmens and burying around 3,000 relics of the Bronze Age, they obtained permission to build tourist entertainment facilities.

Chuncheon is regarded as a ignored region for development due to various regulations, including the protection of water sources. The plan to build the Legoland must be welcomed by the local as around 10,000 jobs can be created. However, should the big size of prefabricated products be built on the historic site? Could the values of the Jungdo site be replaced with the village of plastic blocks?

The Jungdo site is not only for Korean, but for the whole world. It is the very unique remains that show an outstanding result of humankind’s history that is worthy of preservation.

It is lucky to see the great history, showing the historical identity of Koreans that can be witnessed in the place where their ancestors used to live 3,000 years ago.

It would be never thought to demolish a 500-year-old palace to build a scenic hotel. Rather, it would be preserved, repaired and restored over time. The Jungdo site is the world-class cultural heritage, and its whole scale depends on future excavation and cannot be estimated.

The current generation does not have to take responsibility to excavate the entire site. Just some of them can be excavated now, and the other can be given to future generations who will be able to investigate them with more advanced technology. Many of the Roman remains still stay underground.

The fundamental purpose of finding historic sites is not to excavate, but to preserve and transmit them to the succeeding generations in order to restore and remember history.

The total amounts of prehistoric remains excavated in Jungdo are 9,000 relics, 1,266 house sites and 149 tombs, which makes the place the most remarkable prehistoric site in the world.

According to the 「UNESCO Declaration concerning the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage」, the States should take all appropriate measures to prevent, avoid, stop and suppress acts of intentional destruction of cultural heritage, wherever such heritage is located.’

Now, in June 2020, could you imagine that the Legoland is built after the Stonehenge of England, the Parthenon of Greece, the Pyramid of Egypt, the Colosseum of Rome, Angkor Wat of Cambodia, or Machu Picchu of Peru is demolished?

Jungdo is deliberately being destroyed by the development plan with the justification that it is not a large-scale architecture and many jobs can be created. This means the loss of important opportunities to know their thoughts and expressions through the traces of life 3,000 years ago (probably even before), and also structure and system that reflect the high-level of culture.

The international community should recognize the importance of the protection of cultural heritage like the Jungdo site and takes responsibility to fight against its intentional destruction in any form in order to transmit the heritage to the succeeding generations.

The future of the world heritage that has to be protected and preserved depends on your interest and choice.

[UNESCO Declaration concerning the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage]

Be mindful that cultural heritage is an important component of the cultural identity of communities, groups and individuals, and of social cohesion, so that its intentional destruction may have adverse consequences on human dignity and human rights,

“damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind, since each people makes its contribution to the culture of the world”

1) Harald Meller, 2016, 「Archäologie in Deutschland」 Vol. April
2) JO Jong-yeop, 2019, 「In danger of ‘cultural heritage disaster’ of Korean Stonehenge ignored by Theme park」, 『Dong-a Ilbo』 A24, 27.07.2019.
3) LEE Gi-hwan, 2019, 「An archaeologist’s outcry…“replace the largest heritage of the Bronze Age with a toy park」, 『Kyunghyang Newspaper』 online, 20.06.2019.
4) LEE Hyong-gu, a chair-professor at the Sunmoon University·Director of Oriental Archaeology Research Institute, 2018, 「A Jungdo historic site in Chuncheon and its significance」, 『a journal of Gwangjang』, No. 219, p.248~250.
5) LEE Hyong-gu, 2020, 「Should the Jungdo site be destroyed to build the Legoland」, 『Kyunghyang Newspaper』 online, 02.01.2020.
6) Lutz Fiedler, 2019, 「A German archaeologist was also annoyed at the Legoland in the Jungdo, Chuncheon」, Youtube ‘Goindol Park’, 24.03.2019.
7) UNESCO, 2003, [UNESCO Declaration concerning the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage], 32nd UNESCO General Assembly, Paris, 17.10.2013

Photo references

1) Gangwon Jungdo Development Corporation, photograph(a bird’s-eye view of Legoland).
2) Cultural Heritage Administration, photograph(stone arrowheads, mandolin-shaped bronze dagger, bronze axes, no.285 of a large-scale housing site, ditch, a group of dolmens, a aerial photo).
3) LEE Gi-hwan, 『Kyunghyang Newspaper』(Pit-type dolmen in Jungdo).