Excavation of Kim Jeong-gi and Korean Archeology

창산 김정기의 유적조사와 한국고고학

  • Lee, Ju-heun (Buyeo National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage)
  • Received : 2017.09.29
  • Accepted : 2017.11.09
  • Published : 2017.12.30


Kim Jeong-gi (pen-name: Changsan, Mar. 31, 1930 - Aug. 26, 2015) made a major breakthrough in the history of cultural property excavation in Korea: In 1959, he began to develop an interest in cultural heritage after starting work as an employee of the National Museum of Korea. For about thirty years until he retired from the National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage in 1987, he devoted his life to the excavation of our country's historical relics and artifacts and compiled countless data about them. He continued striving to identify the unique value and meaning of our cultural heritage in universities and excavation organizations until he passed away in 2015. Changsan spearheaded all of Korea's monumental archeological excavations and research. He is widely known at home and abroad as a scholar of Korean archeology, particularly in the early years of its existence as an academic discipline. As such, he has had a considerable influence on the development of Korean archeology. Although his multiple activities and roles are meaningful in terms of the country's archaeological history, there are limits to his contributions nevertheless. The Deoksugung Palace period (1955-1972), when the National Museum of Korea was situated in Deoksugung Palace, is considered to be a time of great significance for Korean archeology, as relics with diverse characteristics were researched during this period. Changsan actively participated in archeological surveys of prehistoric shell mounds and dwellings, conducted surveys of historical relics, measured many historical sites, and took charge of photographing and drawing such relics. He put to good use all the excavation techniques that he had learned in Japan, while his countrywide archaeological surveys are highly regarded in terms of academic history as well. What particularly sets his perspectives apart in archaeological terms is the fact that he raised the possibility of underwater tombs in ancient times, and also coined the term "Haemi Culture" as part of a theory of local culture aimed at furthering understanding of Bronze Age cultures in Korea. His input was simply breathtaking. In 1969, the National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage (NRICH) was founded and Changsan was appointed as its head. Despite the many difficulties he faced in running the institute with limited financial and human resources, he gave everything he had to research and field studies of the brilliant cultural heritages that Korea has preserved for so long. Changsan succeeded in restoring Bulguksa Temple, and followed this up with the successful excavation of the Cheonmachong Tomb and the Hwangnamdaechong Tomb in Gyeongju. He then explored the Hwangnyongsa Temple site, Bunhwangsa Temple, and the Mireuksa Temple site in order to systematically evaluate the Buddhist culture and structures of the Three Kingdoms Period. We can safely say that the large excavation projects that he organized and carried out at that time not only laid the foundations for Korean archeology but also made significant contributions to studies in related fields. Above all, in terms of the developmental process of Korean archeology, the achievements he generated with his exceptional passion during the period are almost too numerous to mention, but they include his systematization of various excavation methods, cultivation of archaeologists, popularization of archeological excavations, formalization of survey records, and promotion of data disclosure. On the other hand, although this "Excavation King" devoted himself to excavations, kept precise records, and paid keen attention to every detail, he failed to overcome the limitations of his era in the process of defining the nature of cultural remains and interpreting historical sites and structures. Despite his many roles in Korean archeology, the fact that he left behind a controversy over the identity of the occupant of the Hwangnamdaechong Tomb remains a sore spot in his otherwise perfect reputation.


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