Dolmens

Dolmens

One of Korea’s claims to fame has been the number of dolmens found on the peninsula, large stone structures that date from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages.

In Korea three types are found: a northern type, a south-ern type, and an intermediate type with features of both the northern and southern types. Those of the northern type are large, with stones more than two feet thick, 10 feet long, and six feet wide.

Typically, the northern type looks like the Greek letter pi (π), a large stone sitting horizontally across two vertical stones. The social organization needed to create such a labor-intensive monument was quite sophisticated.

It required an organized and fairly large population and the leadership of a strong ruler. In analyzing the stones, or megaliths, geologists have determined that many had been hauled for miles from their origins.

The kind of technology required to move the stones was surely simple—a matter of rolling the stones on logs, digging pits for the vertical stones, covering the supporting stones with earth, rolling the top stone up the earthen mound, and then hauling away the earth to leave the horizontal stone perched safely atop the vertical stones. Nevertheless, it reveals a degree of large-scale social organization that would have just become possible in the late Stone Age and early Bronze Age.

The southern-style dolmens are less impressive but much more numerous. They are small and built level with the earth, with the stone on top covering a stone chamber usually around two feet square.

The third style combines features of the other two styles. These dolmens tend to be built close to the ground, as in the southern style, but the stone on the top is large, somewhat like the northern style, although bulkier and cubic in shape.

In all three cases (the grander northern style, the humbler southern style, and the large-stoned third type) the dolmens appear to have been used as burial sites. Most have long since been robbed of their artifacts, but occasionally an archaeologist reports new findings. Some estimates say there were as many as 80,000 sites prior to the Korean War and about 30,000 sites today.

Korean dolmens received international recognition in 2000 when several of the dolmen collections, some set apart as national parks, were designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.