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Gold Crowns and Cashews (euhh ... Gogok)

Another interesting thing to note about the Gyeongju National Museum is their collection of golden crowns. Apparently there are only ten fully golden crowns in the world, with eight coming from the Korean peninsula and six of those excavated from tombs near Gyeongju. I saw several of them at the Gyeongju National Museum and an additional crown on display at the National Museum of Korea in Seoul. They're all very ornate and some scholars have questioned whether they were ever worn or simply commissioned as funerary objects for important rulers - especially since some of them weigh over a kilogram.

A particularly striking aspect of the Silla crowns are gobeunok (곱은옥) or gogok (고곡), comma-shaped beads made primarily from jadeite, but also from nephrite, bone, and other materials. My first thought was that they look rather similar to cashews - oops - but their resemblance to bear claws has generated discussion concerning whether they indicate a connection to bear totem clans and shaman beliefs in Siberia. There are also representations of the Chinese character for "to go out" (出) in the structure of the crowns, which may also relate to Silla cosmology. Gogok are found on necklaces, armlets, girdles, and belts excavated from royal tombs. This is starting to turn into more of an academic entry than fun reading though, so I'll shut up and leave you with pictures:

« four outer caps and one inner cap - click to enlarge »

From left to right:

01. Gold Crown from Seobongchong Tumulus, Treasure No. 339 (서봉총 금관)
02. Gold Crown from Geumgwanchong, National Treasure 87 (금관총 금관)
03. Gold Inner Cap, National Treasure 189
04. Gold Crown with Pendants, National Treasure 191 (금관 및 수하식 <98호 북분>)
05. Gold Crown from Cheonmachong, National Treasure 188 (천마총 금관)

Note: none of these are my photos and most (all?) originally came from the Cultural Heritage Administration website.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 23rd, 2008 05:32 pm (UTC)
Yes, the green things are gogok.

You and I enjoy academic readings, but I'm not sure if that many other people from among my livejournal friends share the same interest in anthropology and shamanism. ;)

Of the two non-Korean golden crowns it seems one of them was excavated in Afghanistan (at the Tillia Tepe necropolis), and looks like a shorter version of the Silla crowns with more golden 'mirrors' attached. I can only imagine what those look like when they capture the sun's rays! Oh, and the Silla crowns are also supposed to have 'branched antlers' on either side that I've seen used as another example of a connection to Siberian shamanism. (i.e., reindeer herding, which isn't exactly common in Korea)
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 26th, 2008 01:34 am (UTC)
I don't really know whether or not they were shamans. There are also supposed to be some stylistic elements from Buddhism in the crowns (lotus blossoms, et al.) and, while there are books discussing the syncretism between shamanism and Buddhism in Korea, I would be hesitant to claim that the rulers themselves were shamans.

A google query for gold crowns came up with a search result from an Assyrian site found in northern Iraq during the late 1980s. The May/June 2002 issue of Archaeology mentions it, but they don't specify whether it's fully gold or gold-plated. The Afghani crown might be connected to the Korean ones and I've seen the expression "Scytho-Siberian connection" used a couple of times in that regard. National Geographic recently featured an article about how the Afghani crown is going on tour in the United States starting in April of 2008, though I'm not sure how close it will come to Oklahoma. (Houston, perhaps?)

I don't have an insider scoop, but it seems like they take archaeology somewhat seriously. Urban growth is occurring very rapidly here, so some sites such as royal tombs are surrounded by housing developments, but at least they're being preserved and not demolished. On the other hand, dam and canal projects (such as threatening the petroglyphs I posted earlier) are probably an all too real threat. Not sure if they have to do any archaeological work before widening freeways or expanding city zones into the countryside as is the case in North America. There are a few big archaeology institutes on the east coast near Busan, and probably many more smaller ones located across the country. I guess the short answer would have been: "I don't know?" ;)
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 1st, 2008 06:53 pm (UTC)
I never really heard much about archaeology in other countries compared to the United States. Apart from Central America at least, as one of our professors was always flying out there over extended weekends and holidays for palynology work. We also had Ian Hodder come and talk about his work in the Middle East, if you're into post-processual stuff. (Or, as one of our older professors described it, "that new-age hippie archaeology".)

The Scythians were Central Asian nomads who spoke an Iranian language and used burial mounds (kurgans), but I don't know if they were redheads or not. I hope the connection between Korea and Scythians isn't "they wore gold crowns and buried their dead in tumuli" - that seems like pretty scant evidence to me. I'm not an expert on either culture though, so there may be a lot more ...

I read somewhere that Silla kings tried to use the same 'divine ruler' image as kings in Europe, so it makes sense to incorporate elements from multiple religions to validate their reign.

There is one series of books related to Korean anthropology topics, with volumes dedicated to such topics as gender roles within Korean shaman practices, the use of music in shamanism, social archaeology, and syncretism between both shamanism & Buddhism and shamanism & Christianity. I browsed through one on the cultural issues facing overseas Koreans and wasn't that impressed with it, but did pick up one called 'Korean Shamanism and Cultural Nationalism'.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 3rd, 2008 02:32 pm (UTC)
Hodder appealed to the archaeology students at our university, but as someone more interested in cultural anthropology I preferred meeting Mike Alvard from Texas A&M. My favorite guest speaker overall, however, was Richard Glor from the University of Rochester (previously UC Davis).

The Scythians might have been red-heads, I really have no idea. Using mountains sounds like something the Scythians would have done ... not like I know very much about them.

Interestingly, I came across the following passage in my reading today:

There exist in material relics pieces of evidence to suggest that the early Korean kings may have fulfilled the shamanistic role. The most frequently cited example is the royal regalia dating back to the Shilla period (Yu 1975; Grayson 1989, etc.). They bear a resemblance to the modern Siberian shaman's costume, too strkiking to dismiss as mere co-incidence. The gold crowns have a pair of antlers and/or features a three-pronged fork motif representing the branch of the cosmic tree, which also decorate the Siberian shaman's headgear. Ornithological themes abound in various ornaments. The use of birch bark for a painting of a flying horse inside a royal tomb may not be a mere co-incidence, since the cosmic tree in the form of a white birch, and magical flights to heaven are classic concepts in Siberian shamanism. The recurring theme of 'flight to heaven', represented by ornithological ornaments, antlers, flying horses, etc., suggests a 'trip', which the shaman rulers may have undertaken in 'trance', for the purpose of getting in touch with the spirits, which are generally believed to dwell in heaven or up above.

The volume on cultural issues didn't look like it was edited before publication, with frequent misspellings and strange grammatical choices. I was most interested in the section on Koreans in Central Asia, but can't recall finding anything that isn't included in the Wikipedia article on the subject. Not worth the 30,000 Won (~$35) to purchase a copy. The one on shamanism is turning out to be fairly interesting so far, although, admittedly, I'm still in the introduction.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 11th, 2008 02:48 pm (UTC)
Glor does macroevolution, biological diversity, and what factors lead to the creation of new species. His particular emphasis is Anolis lizards in the Caribbean. My university's Department of Biological Sciences funded his visit, but I dropped by and was later asked to join him and the PhD. students from the department.

And because I spent the time to go back and read my earlier livejournal entries on Glor's visit, here is one of the stories he shared with us. =D

Good point about religion and power. Now I'm curious how Islamic practices might vary between Indonesia and the Maghreb (French North Africa) as a result of different cultural groups/ruling elites ...
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 12th, 2008 07:06 pm (UTC)
Definitely; having to kill them must have been so disappointing.

Guilty as charged. Also guest seminars on archaeology, biological anthropology, epidemiology, artificial taste enhancement, and hormonal changes in salmon for good measure. Never had the time to check out the speakers from physics or chemistry though. =\
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )