Paleolithic Period (700,000 BC to 40,000 BC)



Evidence from a few scattered Paleolithic sites suggests that Neanderthal man may have lived on this peninsula for half a million years, and that a Paleo-Asiatic man inhabited it from about 40,000 B.C. While little is actually known about these latter Stone Age people, it's assumed from stone tools and weapons, bone artifacts, food remains, and fireplace sites that they were hunter-gatherers and fishermen. Some lived on riverside flat land, yet most seem to have inhabited inland caves. It's likely that people moved from the Korean Peninsula to the Japanese islands about 20,000 years ago, when the Korean Strait was much narrower.



 Paleolithic Korea

The origins of this period are an open question but the antiquity of hominid occupation in Korea may date to as early as 500,000 BCE. Yi and Clark are somewhat skeptical of dating the earliest occupation to the Lower Palaeolithic.

At Seokjang-ri, an archaeological site near Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do Province, artifacts that appear to have an affinity with Lower Paleolithic stone tools were unearthed in the lower levels of the site. Bifacial chopper or chopping-tools were also excavated. Hand axes and cleavers produced by men in later eras were also uncovered.

The earliest radiocarbon dates for the Paleolithic indicate the antiquity of occupation on the Korean peninsula is between 40,000 and 30,000 BP. From an interesting habitation site at Locality 1 at Seokjang-ri, excavators claim that they excavated some human hairs of Mongoloid origin along with limonitic and manganese pigments near and around a hearth, as well as animal figurines such as a dog, tortoise and bear made of rock. Reports claim that these were carbon dated to some 20,000 years ago.  The Palaeolithic ends when pottery production begins c 8000 BCE.

 Known as Yungimun Pottery, the pottery has been found in much of the peninsula. Gosan-ri in Jeju-do, and Ubong-ri in Greater Ulsan, represent examples of Yungimun-era sites. Jeulmun, or Comb-pattern Pottery, can be found after 7000 B.C.E

In recent years, Paleolithic remains have been found in a number of excavations. The best known sites are in Unggi county North Hamgyong province, Chunghwa county and Kongju, South Chungchong prov . These date from about 30,000 to 20,000 years ago. It is not known if the Korean people of today are the ethnic descendants of these Paleolithic people . Paleolithic man in Korea lived in caves and built dwellings above ground. Stone tools such as hand axes using chipping and flaking have been found from this period .


Neolithic Period

Somb pattern pottery


Neolithic man, characterized by the making of polished tools and the use of pottery, appeared in Korea about 4,000 B.C. and were the same ethnic stock as the inhabitants of Siberia . Around 3,000 B.C. that pottery with geometric designs, called ' comb pattern pottery ' appears , such pottery of a similar design has been found in the Maritime Territory of Siberia and Mongolia . Around 1,800 B.C. a third pottery culture characterized by painted designs spread into Korea from Manchuria.




 Located in Amsa-Dong, the Prehistoric Settlement Site (선사주거지) was unearthed in 1925 when a massive flood washed over the banks of the Han River. To date, this Neolithic has been the largest discovered in Korea. The Amsa-Dong Prehistoric Settlement Site depicts the average life of these primitive humans as well as many relics recovered from archeological excavations. The number and quality of these finds is so great, that the site and its artifacts were designated National Historic Relic #267 in 1979. Humans that called this area home not only lived here during the Neolithic period, but also the during the Bronze Age and Baekje.


Unlike Korea's Paleolithic people, the ethnic stock of the Neolithic people merged to form the modern inhabitants of Korea. Neolithic sites are often found near the banks of rivers and seashores . Stone sinkers attest to the use of fishnets. Farming tools also make their appearance . Grain and nuts were ground by millstones. Neolithic man lived mainly in pit dwellings . Neolithic man in Korea held animistic beliefs, that every object in the world had a spirit . Neolithic graves are found with the head toward the rising sun in many sites .The basic societal unit of the time was the clan .


Artifacts from the peninsula's more numerous Neolithic sites indicate that Neolithic man replaced the Paleo-Asiatic man during several waves of migration from central and northeast Asia about 4000 B.C. (some suggest 8000 B.C.). The ancestors of modem Koreans, these people were of the Tungusic branch of the Altaic language group, which included the nomadic tribes of southeast Siberia, the Manchus, and the Mongols. Neolithic man lived along rivers and coasts. A hunter-gatherer and fisherman, he used polished stone tools and weapons, and produced round-bottomed plain pottery.


A second wave of immigrants began around 3000 B.C. The plentiful archaeological sites from this period reveal a comb-pattern pottery similar to samples found in Manchuria  and Mongolia.


Better tools and weapons were produced, and weaving was begun. With the inception of rudimentary cultivation and the domestication of animals, people moved inland and became more sedentary. Along with a greater reliance on cultivation came an increase in population, with another probable migration to Japan. During this time kinship relationships developed and blood clans exchanged goods and intermarried. Superior cultivation techniques, advances in tools and weapons, greater variety in the preparation ration of foods, storehouses, and objects of decoration and veneration indicate a growing sophistication.


A third wave of migrants arrived between roughly 1800 and 800 B.C. These people created new pottery shapes and designs, some painted. They developed a more advanced society that gave rise to specialized occupations, formalized social relationships, and some sort of order and rule of law. These clans grew in number and size, evolving into associated clan groups and tribes. Neolithic man was an animist who believed that animate and inanimate objects have souls. As this belief became more important, the responsibility for the activities and interpretation of this quasi-religion was taken over by shamans who developed prestige and power within the community, and may have become chiefs or respected elders.


About 700 B.C., bronze was introduced to the Korean Peninsula and peripheral regions of eastern Asia, most probably from central Manchuria and southern Siberia. Also, an influx of people at this time from eastern China brought advanced technology, metallurgy, more developed agricultural practices, including the cultivation of rice, animal husbandry, and the production of undecorated red pottery. While still depending in part on hunting, gathering, and fishing, people of the peninsula established permanent settlements in river basins and upland regions. They established a social hierarchy of commoner, privileged class, and leader. The society produced metal tools and effective weapons, and honored their leaders with dolmen tomb burials.


Tribal units developed into walled-town states where territory, not blood or relationship, was the dominant cohesive factor. Eventually, these began to form larger confederations, with one group among them becoming most influential. These states had a centralized government, and were the foundation from which the first historical states evolved.

About 300 B.C., iron was introduced, allowing for improved agricultural implements (and greater food production), more numerous weapons, and the ability to use wood more effectively. From this time, houses began to be heated by the unique ondol system, in which hot air passed through flues beneath the indoor heating the floor and warming the air above it and exited through a chimney on the far side. Because of the increase in population and the movements of people, warfare was common, causing shifting alliances and areas of control.