Surprisingly, South Korea is home to more than half of all prehistoric dolmens known to exist in the world. The peninsula also contains the world’s largest megalithic boulder in any dolmen, measuring 5 metres high and weighing 300 tons.
Korean dolmens are different to many of those found in Europe. What is particularly impressive about them, however, is their sheer quantity. It is estimated that the peninsula contains at least 35,000, with the largest concentration on the west coast.
Since the year 2,000, three regions with large numbers of dolmens (more than 100 examples) have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. They are called Gochang, Hwasum and Ganghwa.
Very little research has been done and only since 1945 has there been any real interest in them. The most important research programme was only started in 1981 by the curator of the National Museum in Korea, Mr Gon’gil Ji. He divided the dolmens into two groups: northern and southern dolmens. The border between them is the Bukhan river. The northern types stand above the ground with a rectangular chamber and a capstone on top (table dolmen). The southern types are built into the ground as a sort of stone coffin with a capstone as a lid. It is assumed that the southern types have some sort of relationship with burials, but the significance of the northern types is as yet unknown.
The large number of different types makes it difficult to establish any sort of chronological order. It is generally accepted that the dolmens began to be built in the late Stone Age, the time when agriculture first appeared in the region. Most were built in the Bronze Age. Some of the dolmens which have been found probably had some astronomical significance. These were built around 3,000 BC. All in all, very little is known about the dolmens of South Korea.
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Text Harrie Wolters
Translation Alun Harvey