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History of Korean Ceramics - 1

Earthenware and the Life and Death of Ancient Peoples

Ceramics are born from the encounter between formless earth and water with an influence of fire. Most ceramic works do not indicate exactly when they were created, who made them, or where they were made, but their color, shape, size, and attributes make it possible to estimate the time and place of their production, as well as the material used. Such estimations can be made because ceramics are greatly influenced by natural conditions including the earth, water, and firewood used to make them, and they are utility wares that are continuously updated in accordance with the customs, lifestyles, culinary traditions, and social institutions of users. The elements and processes of the lives of people who use ceramics are the driving force for changing and improving the shape, size, thickness, weight, color, and quality of ceramics. People use ceramics to hold and carry foods or other items, to eat and drink, to spit foods out or dispose of, to support or cover other objects, or to appreciate as objets d'art and even adorn themselves. Whether intended or not, most ceramic works have their own purpose and use.

In the production of Korean ceramics, clay is generally used for earthenware and celadon, while kaolin (white earth) is used for white porcelain. As the ingredients of the earth used for different types of ceramics are different, the color of the each type of ceramics is rendered differently. Ceramics can be made with earth in its natural status, but refined (washed) earth is ideal for produc￾ing ceramics with a denser and smoother texture. In some cases, more than one type of earth is mixed together to achieve optimal proportions. The clay for ceramics must be viscous enough to be formed and shaped, and it must additionally be able to stand up to high temperatures as it goes through the process of firing in a kiln.

The most fundamental element for ceramics production in Korea, from prehistoric times up through today, is the selection of earth, the raw material for ceramics. Clay is used to build the body of ceramics. Some types of clay can be readily gathered in ordinary natural surroundings, while others can only be used for ceramics production after a complicated process including a rather difficult method of collection from the mountains, grinding, and refinement. Notably, kaolin, material used to create white porcelain, is collected only from specific mineral veins, so the process of its mining and refinement is more difficult than that of other ordinary types of clay.

For convenience, ceramics are categorized into clayware, earthenware, stoneware, porcelain, and so on, according to their density, whether they are glazed or not, the temperature of firing, and other qualities. In modern days, all these categories of ceramics exist together, but they appeared one after another throughout the long history of Korean ceramics.

Earthenware is relatively softer than other types of ceramics, as it is fired at a temperature between 700℃ and 900℃. Chronologically, some of the pottery made in the prehistoric times and the era of the Three Kingdoms of Korea falls into this category. Un glazed flowerpots, earthen coffins, and earthen roof tiles are the most typical examples. Clayware and earthenware were regarded as different concepts in Korea, but more recently, they have been lumped together under the category of "earthenware," as it is diffi￾cult to distinguish between the two with bare eyes.

Stoneware is fired at a temperature between 1,000℃ and 1,200℃. Scientific analysis of the hard earthenware produced in the Unified Silla Kingdom era and Goryeo celadon reveals they were fired at a temperature for firing stoneware, approximately 1,150–1,200℃.

Porcelain generally refers to ceramics fired at over 1,200℃. More precisely, porcelain is a completely hard ceramic fired at over 1,250–1,300℃ and glazed. White porcelain made of kaolin is the most famous example. Other typical examples include the white porcelain of the Chinese Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, as well as the hard white porcelain of Korea's Joseon Dynasty, the hard white porcelain produced in the Arita region in Japan after the 17th century, and the hard white porcelain produced in Europe after the 18th century.

Earthenware and the Life and Death of Ancient Peoples

Earthenware is the very foundation for the ceramics used in people's everyday lives from the prehistoric times all the way up through the current age. Even though it is not as beautiful or lustrous as celadon or white porcelain, earthenware has always been there for the life and death of the Korean people, for eating, housing, funerals, and many more purposes. Earthenware played a role in every stage of people's life from birth to death, representing the human journey through the flow of life until death. In ancient societies, ancestral rites or ceremonies were hosted to achieve societal unity. Different types of earthenware were used for such rituals for diverse purposes.

1. Earthenware of the Neolithic Age
People began to live in settlements in earnest in the Neolithic Age. As agriculture gradually began in this age, earthenware was used for the purpose of storing foods or cooking. Many pieces of comb-pattern pottery, with surfaces decorated in thin comb-patern lines and sharply pointed bottoms, were discovered at the Amsa-dong Prehistoric Settlement Site in Seoul, the most famous historic site of the Neolithic Age in Korea. The shape of Neolithic earthenware discovered on the Korean Peninsula differs between regions; comb-pattern pottery with pointed bottoms was used in the mid-west and southern regions of the peninsula, while earthenware with flat bottoms was used in the east coast area. Those diverse types of earthenware were used to store food ingredients or used directly on fires for cooking. In addition to the earthenware used practically in the daily lives of Neolithic people, there were also different types of earthenware items produced as grave goods. A huge earthenware jar thought to have been used to bury the body of a dead infant was discovered in the shell mound in Dongsam-dong, Busan. An earthenware coffin with fragments of cremated human bones inside it was discovered at a historic site in Sangchon-ri, Jinju, Gyeongsangnam-do. These show historic proof that large earthenware jars were used as coffins from as early as the Neolithic Age on the Korean Peninsula.

In consideration of the distribution of the historic sites in Korea where comb-pattern pottery was discovered and the geographical characteristics of the locations of discovery, it has been de￾termined that they were used during the times when people lived by hunting and gathering, before the beginning of primitive agriculture. Comb-pattern pottery is also called "fish bone-patterned pottery" or "geometric-patterned pottery," as diverse combinations of straight-line geometric patterns were carved on the surface with sharp tools. The comb-pattern pottery of Korea is believed to have originated from the Siberian region, due to their form and the decoration techniques. In such a view, it is thought that Kammkeramik, which proliferated in Finland and Germany in northern Europe, spread toward the east and was introduced to Korea. It is estimated that it entered the Korean Peninsula through the northeastern coastal area of the peninsula and spread southward alongside the east coast, passing across the southern coast before ultimately reaching the western coastal region. However, the details of Korean comb-pattern pottery, including the manu￾facturing method and composition of patterns, differ from those of Kammkeramik. In addition, radiocarbon dating has estimated the age of Korean comb-pattern pottery to be older than that of the pottery discovered in the region of the Maritime Provinces of Russia, so some claim that comb-pattern pottery appeared naturally on the Korean Peninsula.

The oldest comb-pattern pottery discovered in Korea is thought to have been produced in 4000 BCE according to radiocarbon dating, while the most recent examples are estimated to have been created in 1000 BCE. The 3,000-year era of comb-pattern pottery can be divided into early, middle, and late periods, and the shape and patterns of the pottery changed with each period over the course of time.

Comb-pattern pottery has most often been discovered at dwelling sites on the seashore or riverside. The shape of their bases is typically U-shaped with a slightly flattened bottom or V-shaped, with a bottom pointed like the tip of an egg. Most pieces have wide, open mouths. It is thought that they were crafted through the stacking of rings of clay, one after another, and then forming them into the desired shape. Repeated short or long lines or dots are etched on the top part of Korean comb-pattern pottery. For example, many pieces may have short parallel diagonal lines around the mouth and a fish bone pattern that seems to have been carved with a fish bone in the middle. In addition, some pieces have short lines densely stamped on the base as well. However, the pattern on the base was gradually omitted towards the later period of the Neolithic age. The most famous example of this is the comb-pattern pottery discovered at the Amsa-dong Prehistoric Settlement Site in the area of the Hangang River in Seoul.
Comb-Pattern Pottery
2. Earthenware of the Bronze and Iron Ages
In the Bronze Age, large earthenware vessels were put into pits dug at one corner inside people's dwellings, in order to store food and other items. The shape of the earthenware vessels used for storage differed between regions. Other than such storage vessels, everyday earthenware including small bowls, plates, and cups were produced and used. The Iron Age began in earnest around the third century BCE on the Korean Peninsula. During the Iron Age, diverse types of earthenware without patterns were still in use following the Bronze Age. The earthenware of the Iron Age was harder than that of the Bronze Age, but the differences between them were not significant. Large earthenware jars, head-shaped earthenware vessels with high legs, and earthenware steamers were used throughout this period.

Tombs of the Bronze Age included dolmens, stone-lined tombs, pit tombs, earthen coffin tombs, and fosse-girded tombs. Pieces of red earthenware made of fine clay, glazed with liquid oxidized steel, burnished with a smooth tool, and then fired are often discovered in those tombs. The earthen coffin tomb is the most typical type of tomb of the Bronze Age. Earthenware practically used in the daily lives of the Bronze Age people was used for those tombs as well, to bury dead bodies or bones. There were a number of diverse types of earthenware coffins: a combination of two earthen jars, an earthen jar laid on its side and covered with a stone lid, a jar erected straight up on a stone support and covered with a stone lid, and so forth.

In the Iron Age, dolmens disappeared, but other types of tombs still remained from the Bronze Age. There were huge differences in the quantity and quality of grave goods in various individual tombs with wooden coffins that were discovered in the Gyeongsang-do region in Korea. There were also differences between tombs of different groups. Generally, the tombs of the age show a trend of an increase in the number of earthenware grave goods. In the Iron Age, black earthenware with burnished surfaces were placed in graves.

In line with the increase in population and establishment of ancient states, the use of earthenware further increased. Ancient people used diverse earthenware items for different purposes, such as storage, cooking, and eating.

While most of the combpattern pottery from the Neolithic Age had rounded bases and only some had flat bottoms, the plain earthenware from the Bronze Age typically featured flat bottoms. It's also worth noting that most of the earthenware from the Bronze Age has been discovered at the dwelling sites located inland. Earthenware made in various forms has been discovered, making the estimation that earthenware was used for a wider variety of purposes in the Bronze Age than in the Neolithic Age plausible. In some regions, earthenware with simple patterns has also been discovered. Plain earthenware is thought to have been passed from overseas, along with bronzeware, which was newly introduced to the Korean Peninsula in the 10th century BCE. It appeared for the first time in the downstream area of the Amnokgang (Yalu) River. Then, it spread to the regions of Pyeongan-do and Hwanghae-do. In short, plain earthenware spread to the Korean Peninsula along with agricultural culture, taking root and then spreading to the southern region of the peninsula. The plain earthenware in the figure below was discovered at a historic site in Songguk-ri, Chungcheongnam-do. It is a typical example of Bronze Age earthenware, with no pattern and a flat bottom.

Plain earthenware is classified as bowls, dishes, plates, and pots, according to their usage. Many of them were produced by piling up rings of clay and then forming the final shape. The body is usually plain, but the mouth occasionally features small holes for decoration. Some others have decorative bands on the mouth or handle. In addition to plain earthenware, red or black burnished pottery from the Bronze Age has also been discovered.
Dolmen (left), Plain Pottery Jar (right)
3. Earthenware of the Goguryeo Kingdom
The Goguryeo people's use of earthenware for their daily lives can be surmised from pieces of earthenware excavated from the historic sites of Goguryeo and tomb murals. Anak Tomb No. 3, a Goguryeo tumulus built in the fourth century, has paintings of a kitchen, stable, barn, and well still remaining on one side of the wall. Earthenware used by the Goguryeo people is expressed in detail in the kitchen and well sections of the painting. A large earthenware pot is placed on a fire pit in the kitchen for cooking, and next to it are piled round, shallow dishes. In the mural that depicts a well, there are several large water jars near it. A mural painting discovered in the Muyongchong Tomb, most famous for a mural of dancers, expresses the indoor lifestyle of the times, as the owner of the tomb is shown treating his guests in a large room decorated with curtains. Various types of earthenware including small-sized bowls for eating and flat plates on which foods are piled up high are depicted in the painting.

The remains of a building with an ondol heating system from the time when the Goguryeo Kingdom was occupying the Hangang River area are still there within the Mongchontoseong Fortress located in Songpa-gu, Seoul. Many earthenware items used by the Goguryeo people were discovered from the remains, including jars, different types of pots, steamers, and three-legged pots.

Only a few earthenware grave goods from this age have been passed down until today. The reason is because the tombs of the Goguryeo Kingdom had stone rooms above ground, making them prone to robbery. Also, it is difficult to inspect and study those tombs as most of them are in areas that are in North Korea and China now. Burial accessories made by assembling clay plates have been discovered from some tombs of Goguryeo. Most of them were discovered from Goguryeo tombs in Ji'an in Jilin Province in China. They are similar to earthenware items that were discovered from the tombs of the Chinese Han Dynasty, indicating cultural correlation between the two states.
Goguryo Tomb Mural (left), Goguryeo Steamer (right)
4. Earthenware of the Baekje Kingdom
The fact that the people of Baekje used diverse earthenware items for their daily lives was revealed from different types of historic remains and excavation investigation of dwelling sites. Wiryeseong Fortress in Hanam, which was the capital of Baekje in its early period, is now near the area of Pungnaptoseong Fortress and Mongchontoseong Fortress in Seoul. Earthenware items used as storage vessels were discovered in the residential areas of those sites. Notably, a large earthenware pot 76 centimeters in height that is thought to have been used for storage was unearthed at the residential site of Pungnaptoseong Fortress. An earthenware pot used as a well bucket was discovered in a well in the fortress as well.

Earthenware played a significant role in storing food ingredients. As earthenware has the advantage of keeping grains and fruits fresh longer than metal containers, and they can be made in any shape and size, earthenware was widely used by the people of Baekje in their homes. Multiple large earthenware pots buried deep in the ground to be used for storage were discovered from historic sites of the Baekje Kingdom. Baekje's people used diverse earthenware items beyond just pots, including dishes with feet, plates with triple legs, bowls with lids, and more. The people of Baekje held different types of large-scale national ceremonies, such as worship ceremonies for mountains and rivers and ancestral rituals held at the tomb of the founder of the kingdom, King Dongmyeong. Many pieces of earthenware used for those ceremonies were intentionally crushed and discarded at the end of the ceremonies, and those broken pieces were found at the historic sites of Baekje. Some of them are thought to have been used to contain offerings including liquor and foods. Long tube-shaped saucers and three-legged bowls are thought to have been used for those ceremonies of Baekje.

Tombs of different forms, including stone mound tombs that implied the royal family of Baekje was descended from the Goguryeo Kingdom, were built throughout different times and regions of the Baekje Kingdom. Just as the form of tombs varied, a wide variety of earthenware was buried in those tombs. The Baekje ancient tombs in Seokchon-dong, Seoul, are the most famous example of stone mound tombs. They are thought to have been the tombs for the central ruling group of Baekje during the era the kingdom's capital was located at Hanseong (today's Seoul). Black earthenware with burnished surfaces, a whole new type of earthenware different from those in previous times, was discovered in Baekje's Tomb No. 2 in Garak-dong, Seoul, another stone mound tomb. This type of earthenware was made of very fine clay, and its surface became glossy when polished. Most of such earthenware was produced in the mid-third century. As evidenced by the fact that the shoulders of Baekje's black earthenware featured decorative patterns, which was popular for earthenware of the Qin Dynasty of China, Baekje's ceramics of those times were significantly affected by China.

The style of Baekje's tombs differed between ages and regions. Round-shaped pots, long-necked pots, and other types of earthenware were buried in the tombs of Baekje. Notably, tombs with earthen coffins were the most typical type of tomb used in Baekje territory. The mouth of two egg-shaped earthenware pots were put together to make a coffin in those tombs. The size and firing condition of those pots demonstrate how advanced Baekje's ceramics techniques were.
Baekje Earthenware Stand (left), Earthenware Coffin (right)
5. Earthenware of the Shilla and Gaya Kingdom
Most of the domestic earthenware items of Silla were discovered in the process of excavating the site of the kingdom's royal palace in Gyeongju. A variety of road facilities, building sites, dwelling sites, and wells that give a hint of the daily lives of Silla people were discovered at royal palace sites. Notably, large storage pots, oil lamps, tureens, bottles, steamers, and jars made by hand were discovered. Domestic earthenware items practically used for the everyday lives of the Silla people were also discovered at Wolji (Moon Pond, also known as Anapji) in Gyeongju, which was built near the end of the Silla period. At that time, a decorative style of stamping diverse designs on the surface of earthenware was in vogue. Different types of earthenware including bowls with covers, long-necked bottles, steamers, and ewers were made and used by the Silla people. The site of Silla's royal palace in today's Gyeongju drew keen attention when a large earthenware pot with its volume marked on the surface was discovered in it. The volume of the pot was 10 seok, a unit of volume used by the people of those times, or 520 liters in today's measurements. Most earthenware items buried near the burial mound of tombs were utensils used for ancestral rites of Silla and Gaya, such as in the case of Hwangnam Daechong (Great Tomb at Hwangnam-dong) of Silla and Daeseong-dong Ancient Tombs of the Gaya Kingdom.

Most of the tombs of the top ruling class of Silla in the Gyeongju area were stone-compiled wooden chamber tombs. The coffin or outer coffin was covered by piling up pebbles and then by mounding earth on top of it. According to studies, those tombs were the most typical type in the Gyeongju area from the fourth to midsixth century. More than 1,500 pieces of earthenware were discovered from Hwangnam Daechong Tomb, the most famous tomb from Silla. As it was the tomb of a king, large earthenware pots full of grains and foods, as well as diverse earthenware items and kitchen utensils, were discovered in it, to give a hint of how rich and sumptuous a lifestyle the royal family of those times had.

Many pieces of earthenware figurines modeled after people, animals, and certain objects were discovered from stone-compiled wooden chamber tombs in the Gyeongju area. An earthenware figurine of a man riding on a horse and a figurine of ship, as well as earthenware items that were not used for a daily-life purposes but only as burial goods, including a very high stand, were unearthed from the Geumnyeongchong Tomb. Most of Silla's clay figurines of people and animals were excavated from small tombs in Hwangnam-dong, Gyeongju. The clay figurines of people do not merely portray the human figure, but express various human actions such as giving birth, dancing, playing musical instruments, and making love in a simple and symbolic manner. Animal figurines are classified into flying animals, land animals, and aquatic animals. They draw special attention, as they include the models of anteaters, water buffalo, and monkeys, which did not live in the territory of Silla back then. Many pieces of such clay figurines were discovered from the tombs of the Gaya Kingdom as well. Duckshaped ewers that had first appeared in early fourth century near the mouth of the Nakdonggang River appeared later in a limited area including Gimhae, Masan, Haman, and Hapcheon. Not only duck-shaped ewers, but also horn-shaped cups, ship-shaped cups, clay models of houses, and straw shoes were buried in Gaya's tombs.

Many pieces of earthenware were buried in the tombs of Silla and Gaya, as ceramics symbolized wealth and social status, and some of them could be owned only by people with a status above of a certain level.

Jars with a voluptuously round body, long neck, and figurines decorating the shoulder were mostly produced during the era of the Three Kingdoms and they have been discovered in tombs. The Long-Necked Jar with Clay Figurines, estimated to have been made in Silla by the fifth century, has a round bottom without legs. Its neck is stretched up almost vertically but curves outward slightly toward the mouth. A thin ring is carved on the tip of the mouth. Below the ring on the tip, there are two pairs of two thin rings. Between the rings, five straight lines and concentric circles alternate horizontally. The thin rings are placed to divide the neck and shoulder, shoulder and body, as well as in the middle of the body. Between the rings on the neck, shoulder, and body, a pattern of five lines and concentric circles is placed. Those patterns are thought to have been carved by using tools such as a sharp sawtooth knife and compass. Nineteen clay figurines of a man playing gayageum (twelve-stringed plucked zither), a man and woman making love, a bird, amphibians including a snake and frog, a fish, a rabbit, and a turtle were made separately and put on the neck and shoulder of the jar. Even though they look rather clumsy, they humorously capture the appearance and characteristics of the things they depict and express them in a simple style. Other than such jars decorated with clay figurines, there are other earthenware objects whose lids are decorated with figurines. Most of the clay figurines model animals and persons. The clay animals are usually birds, dogs, horses, and wild boars, while the clay humans are seen singing, dancing, or lamenting.

The clayware decorated with separately-produced clay figurines are discovered not only from tombs in Korea but also in other regions, including China. The custom of burying such clayware goods in tombs originated from the beliefs and worldview of the people of those times, who thought that the wealth, joy, and life they enjoyed while alive would continue in their afterlife. In Korea, they are discovered in diverse regions of the Three Kingdoms, mostly in the area of Gyeongju, a city that was the cultural center of Silla.

This pair of human figures was unearthed in 1924, from the Geumnyeongchong Tomb in Nodong-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do. They are charcoal gray clayware burnt to be hard. Such earthenware models found in tombs are a type of burial goods buried with the body, which were believed to play a shamanistic role of guiding the spirit of the dead.

Human figures that look like a master and his servant are dressed in suits and riding harnessed horses, attached to a rectangular base. Goblet-shaped containers are attached on the rump of the horses, and cylindrical spouts are attached to the chests of the horses near the front, forming the structure of the ewers.

The size of the human figure, the size of the horse, the attire, and the harnessing of the horse differ between the two men, according to the difference in their social status as master and servant. The horse of the master is heavily decorated with its mane in a topknot and equipped with stirrups, harness pendants, bells, a saddle flap, and so on. Interestingly, the square saddle flap attached under the saddle looks very much like the birch saddle flap that was unearthed from the Cheonmachong Tomb in Gyeongju, which is famous for its painting of a heavenly house.

The master is wearing a conical hat decorated with a sash and ornaments, as well as armor hanging all the way down toward his legs. On the other hand, the servant is wearing only a head towel above which his topknot is shown. He is not wearing a shirt, holding a bundle on his back and a bell on his right hand to guide his master. Both horses are wearing tethers that connect the saddle to the chest and rump. They are adorned in a set of harness including a bit, screen, and saddle flap. Their tails are tied upward and their hoofs are shoed. The figures are a good example that reveals the living culture of the people of those times, as they demonstrate the details of those people's view of the afterworld, as well as their clothing, arms, and horse equipment.
Long-necked Jar with Clay Figurines (left), Earthenware Funerary Objects in the Shape of a Warrior on Horseback (right)

Infokorea 2018
Infokorea is Korea introduced a magazine designed for readers with an interest in Korea and other foreign producers textbooks and teachers. Infokorea is the author of textbooks or foreign editors and reference to textbooks, Korea provides the latest information that teachers can use in teaching resources. Infokorea also provides cultural, social and historical topics featured in Korea. The theme of the 2018 issue was History of Korean Ceramics.

Publication | The Academy of Korean Studies

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