Earliest source of Korean ironworking technology may have been Russian (Jankowski Culture)

Korean and Russian archaeologists have discovered at the Barabash-3 settlement site about 2000 artifacts including earthen vessels and nine iron artifacts, such as an ax and an arrowhead. They also discovered at two Parhae (Bohai) sites 400m and 200m apart from the Barabash excavation, similar artifacts which shows that the Barabash excavated artifacts are related to those in the Korean peninsula.

The excavations are highly significant — excavated iron items suggest that the earliest source of ironwork technology of Korea may not have been Chinese, but may be traceable to the Jankowski Culture (Russia). The technology predates Chinese ironworking technology by 2 to 3 centuries. Experts claims that the newly excavated ironware is made of gray cast iron, which predates the Chinese ironwork by 2 to 3 centuries.

New Route of inflow of Iron Culture Found

In the village of Barabash, 70km away from the border between Korea and Russia in a direction of Vladivostok, archaeologists have finished excavating an iron manufacturing workshop from sometime between the 7th and 5th centuries BC.

Until now, the widely held view was that ironworking in East Asia was introduced at least before the 4th century BC because full-scale usage of ironware was attested in China dating from the 5th century BC.

However, the result of this excavation shows that another source of Korean ironworking technology existed besides the route from China.

The Korean-Russian Border Group for the Excavation of Prehistoric Remains from Pukyong University (director: Kang In-uk) and the Prehistoric Relics Department of the Russia Far Eastern Archeology Institute (director: N. Kluev) worked together to investigate the settlement site, which they named Barabash-3, from June 25th to July 14th. As a result, 2000 artifacts were found, including earthen vessels and nine iron artifacts, such as an ax and an arrowhead.

At two sites 400m and 200m apart from the excavation, artifacts from the Parhae (Bohai) was discovered, which shows that these artifacts are related to those in the Korean peninsula.

Interestingly, no stone axes were found in this site. On the other hand, almost of all of the iron relics were axes and fragments of axes. This shows that stone axes had already been replaced by iron axes at this period.

The Jankowski culture to which the Barabash remains belonged is in an area in which stone swords were used at that time, and stone swords were also found in the archaeological remains. A crescent-shaped stone knife (半月形石刀; 반월형석도) were also excavated, showing that these relics have relevance to the civilizations of the Korean peninsula.

Since the late 1950’s, the Russian archeology academic circle has claimed that the Iron Age of the Maritime Province started during the 9th century BC.  A. P. Derevianko, director of the Siberian Research Association of Archaeology and Ethnology at the Russian Science Academy, claims that the iron technology came into central Asia at a relatively early time, when the inhabitants began to use ironware without first passing through the Bronze Age.

Lee Nam-Kyu, a professor at Hansin University, claims that the newly excavated ironware is made of gray cast iron, which predates the Chinese ironwork by 2 to 3 centuries. Scholars of the history of iron technology generally believe that cast iron first appeared in China during the 5th century BC, but that it as gray iron. Gray iron, which is made by adding graphite, needs more developed technology than white iron. This technology first appeared during the 2nd century BC in China and had spread all over the country by the 1st century BC.  

The recently excavated iron manufacturing workshop is assumed to have been destroyed on purpose by its workers when they relocated. Blacksmiths of the Balhae or Yeojin (Jurchen) also destroyed their facilities before migrations in order to prevent others from discovering their technology.

Professor Kang In-uk, the director of the excavation, says that the Korean responses to the North East Project of China(동북 공정) have been just a re-analysis of data provided by China, and that investigation of prehistoric culture in the Maritime Province will bring out new evidence which is expected to provide a more developed and rational challenge to the North East Project.

The excavation group from Pukyong University is making a formal report to be published within the first half of this year, and they have already published a preliminary article about this excavation in Korean Archaeology Today (한국의 고고학; Hangukui kogohak),a quarterly magazine.

Source: Early Korea Project Korea Institute, Harvard University March 27, 2008
A newspaper article (in Korean) is HERE

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