Asian Perspectives, 2015 - Volume 54, Number 1 (Spring)

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    Transition from the Prehistoric Age to the Historic Age: The Early Iron Age on the Korean Peninsula
    (University of Hawai'i Press (Honolulu), 2015) Yi, Kisung
    In the prehistoric period in Korea, the appearance of metallurgy is viewed by archaeologists as having a significant impact on the growth of complex societies by providing the technology for greater agricultural production. Within Korean archaeology, the period of 300 to 100 b.c. is classified as the Early Iron Age. The Early Iron Age is situated between the Bronze Age and the Proto–Three Kingdoms period and is culturally significant because it served as a transitional period from the Prehistoric Age to the Historic Age. Despite this significance, the period’s cultural characteristics, area of origin, and relationship with indigenous culture have yet to be explained. The Early Iron Age is primarily defined by the Jeomtodae (clay-striped) pottery culture and slender bronze dagger culture. Although it is generally accepted that ironware culture originated in the Early Iron Age, the Jeomtodae pottery culture and slender bronze dagger culture are not interpreted in the same way all the time. In addition, Chinese literature indicates the names of countries that existed in some parts of the Korean Peninsula. This article aims to examine the concept and cultural characteristics of the Early Iron Age and to review various issues dealt with in studies on the Early Iron Age.
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    Socioeconomic Development in the Bronze Age: Archaeological Understanding of the Transition from the Early to Middle Bronze Age, South Korea
    ( 2015) Kim, Bumcheol
    The transition from the Early to Middle Bronze Age in Korea witnessed emergent social complexity. Recently scholars have frequently referenced theoretical constructs developed in Western archaeology in attempts to understand the socioeconomic changes that occurred during this transition. Meanwhile, other researchers have realized that the Korean case can be seen as both compatible with and incompatible with aspects of these generalized socio-evolutionary models, and with specific cases of early complex society emergence elsewhere in the world. Synthesizing the current discussion of these issues, I argue that sociopolitical development in the central and southern parts of the Korean Peninsula during the EBA–MBA transition might have been closely related to economic intensification. This can be understood from a perspective that emphasizes elite control over basic economic resources as a significant factor in this development. However, it is not solely intended here to reveal compatibility or slight incompatibility between generalized theoretical discourse on complex society emergence in various regions of the world and the archaeological case of the Korean Bronze Age. Rather, the aim is to look for potential ways in which Korean Bronze Age archaeology can contribute to future discussion on this significant global topic of archaeological research, which has great promise in Korean Bronze Age studies but has not been very rigorously explored. While presenting an overview of recent research on socioeconomic patterns, the article offers a more extended discussion of a couple of crucial issues in these Korean Bronze Age societies: the varying elite strategies for agricultural intensification and the conflicting factors in deciding household size and composition as an adaptive strategy, particularly in cases of primary producers.
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    Sedentism, Settlements, and Radiocarbon Dates of Neolithic Korea
    ( 2015) Ahn, Sung-Mo ; Kim, Jangsuk ; Hwang, Jaehoon
    There are two conflicting models regarding the role of the Neolithic millet cultivation in the appearance of the Bronze Age farming economy in South Korea. The “continuity model” suggests that the emergence of a farming economy was a consequence of increasing sedentism, and that millet cultivation practiced during the Neolithic played a significant role in the transition to the Bronze Age. On the contrary, the “discontinuity model” suggests that the appearance of the Bronze Age farming economy heavily dependent on rice had little to do with previous millet cultivation in the Neolithic and the degree of sedentism during the latest Neolithic was very low. We test these models by looking into a temporal variation of sedentism, by quantitatively analyzing the quantity of pit houses and settlements based on relative chronology and radiocarbon dates. Sedentary settlements with small-scale millet cultivation appeared in the central-western Korea during the early fourth millennium b.c. They increased sharply during the late fourth millennium b.c. and also appeared in central-eastern and southern Korea, but they almost disappeared in central and southern Korea from the late third millennium b.c., suggesting a return to increased mobility and/or sharp decrease in population. Hence a continuity model for the emergence of a farming economy cannot be accepted. We suggest environmental deterioration as a prime mover for both the appearance of millet cultivation during the fourth millennium b.c. and the disappearance of sedentary settlement from the late third millennium b.c. in Korea.
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    Diversity of Lithic Assemblages and Evolution of Late Palaeolithic Culture in Korea
    (University of Hawai'i Press (Honolulu), 2015) Seong, Chuntaek
    One of the most characteristic aspects of the Late Palaeolithic in Korea is the diversity of lithic assemblages. Assemblages dominated by quartzite and vein quartz artifacts persisted throughout the Palaeolithic, while blade and microblade assemblages mark the typical Late Palaeolithic technology. Still, given that lithic technological organization is characterized by the interplay of technical constraints, raw material availability, and hunter-gatherer mobility, the transition to the Late Palaeolithic technology is closely associated with the emergence of tanged points, dated to 40,000 to 35,000 cal b.p., made of such fine-grained rocks as silicified tuff and shale, other than locally available quartzite. Tanged points persisted along with blades and blade cores until the end of the LGM, and the microlithic assemblage emerged as early as 30,000 cal b.p. as AMS dates from Jangheungri and Sinbuk suggest. Only a few radiometric dates are available for post-LGM occupations and there may have been a significant decrease in mobile hunter-gatherer populations in the post-glacial Korean Peninsula.
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    The Korean Early Palaeolithic: Patterns and Identities
    (University of Hawai'i Press (Honolulu), 2015) Lee, Hyeong Woo
    Increasing data from early Korean Palaeolithic assemblages have challenged the validity of traditional paradigms. This article summarizes previous models and addresses recently raised questions regarding the synthesis of early toolkits. Determining chronologies, cultural markers, and regional cultural traits were our primary objectives. The applicability of the traditional Western Palaeolithic chronology (Lower, Middle, Upper) to East Asian contexts has recently been questioned, in conjunction with an effort to identify more discrete chronological changes in East Asia. The discourse related to cultural identities within East Asia has underscored the importance of spatially and temporally differing values. The morphology and metrics of Korean hand axes have not been considered typical Acheulean. In addition, temporal persistence is an issue; it has caused the conventional culture-historical orthodoxy to be questioned. Discourses on expedient lithic reduction and a static lithic sequence have been considered indicative of discrete cultural entities in the Korean Palaeolithic. Oldowan-like simple core and flake assemblages and the sporadic occurrence of hand axe assemblages in East Asia were traditionally regarded to be chronologically and culturally separate entities. The growing body of archaeological data for Korea has allowed analysis of the occupational contemporaneity and cultural subordination and independence of chopping tool and hand axe assemblages. The Korean Early Palaeolithic is not standardized and does not conform to traditional typologies. Consequently, the directional perspectives applied to these assemblages need to be reevaluated.