Wooden Tablets Excavated at Sabi-Period Site of Paekche's Last Capital

Wooden tablets were discovered at Ssangbung-ni, a Sabi-period site of Paekche's last capital, at modern Puyŏ.

The Buyeo Prefecture Cultural Heritage Preservation Center (扶餘郡文化財保存센터) excavated two wooden tablets from Ssangbung-ni 184-11 at the end of last year. In addition to the two wooden tablets found at this excavation site, the North-South Highway No. 1•2 also yielded a large number of wells, irrigation canals, wood structures, well-associated ditches, remains of structures, wheel tracks, and features (ditch-shaped remains) dating back to Paekche's Sabi period (538-660 CE).


Ssangbung-ni 184-11 site in Puyŏ where wooden tablets from Paekche were discovered.


Both wooden tablets were excavated from the ditch beside North-South Highway No. 1. The upper section of one of the tablets features an opposing pair of notches to accommodate a string, and visible traces of ink are present on the other tablet. The tablet with ink markings is flat (in the shape of a plank) with a half-moon upper part, but its lower segment is missing. The remaining portion of the upper part is 10.1 cm in length, 2.45cm in width, and less than 0.3 cm thick, with four characters written on the front face of the tablet.

Researcher Shim Sang-Yook 심상육 from the Buyeo Prefecture Cultural Heritage Preservation Center stated that the four characters from the tablet are "deciphered as Kŭnji Suja (斤止受子)." Shim pointed out that "while the meaning of these tablets is unclear, their shapes are similar to that of the Chungbanghyang (中方向) wooden tablet (artifact number 833) excavated from another Paekche site at Kwanbung-ni in Puyŏ," and estimated that "the Chungbanghyang wooden tablet could be categorized as a form of document, though the Kŭnji Suja (斤止受子) seen in the present tablet appears to be a person's name."



Writings on long, flat wooden tablets (mokkan 木簡) and on bamboo slips (chukkan 竹簡), together referred to as kandok (簡牘), as well as writings on silk called paeksŏ (帛書), were widely used throughout East Asia before paper was invented. In addition to existing written sources, kandok and paeksŏ should shed new light on early Korean history.

The wooden tablets recently excavated in Paekche's last capital in modern Puyŏ are receiving a great deal of attention in academia.

Wooden tablets excavated in April of 2010 from Ssangbung-ni 173-8 and 172-5 in Puyŏ revealed that people of Paekche consumed a kind of magic drug called osŏksan (五石散). Moreover, in October 2010, eight wooden tablets inscribed with the word chŏngmi (赤米)—a type of rice—were discovered at the construction site of a church in Kua-ri, Puyŏ.

Shim explained that as soil conditions in the Puyŏ area are favorable to the preservation of organic material, wooden tablets or wooden containers do not degrade and preserve relatively well in the ground.

The 26th king of Paekche, King Sŏng (523-554 CE), meant to restore Paekche by moving the capital to Sabi (Puyŏ) from Ungjin (Kongju), yet Paekche fell just 122 years later.

Shim released research results from this excavation in a paper entitled "Report on Written Materials Recently Excavated in Puyŏ" (부여 출토 문자자료 신출 보고) at a conference held by the Korean Mokkan Society (Han'guk Mokkan Hakhoe 韓國木簡學會) at Dongguk University on the 12th.

Results of analysis on bamboo tablets excavated in 1924 from Site 194 at Sŏgam-ni in Pyongyang were also introduced at the conference.


Lelang Bamboo Tablets excavated from Pyongyang


Site 194 at Sŏgam-ni is a wood-coffin tomb in the Nangnang Ward of Pyongyang. Found in the tomb were three wooden coffins lined up North to South; the coffins yielded a number of goods bearing inscriptions, such as wooden lacquerware, inkstone and portable inkstone cases, as well as fragments of bamboo tablets.

The photographs and the excavation report of the bamboo tablets and other artifacts are currently curated by the National Museum of Korea.

Ahn Kyong-sook curator at the National Museum presented a research paper entitled "Bamboo Strips Excavated from Tomb 194 at Sŏgam-ni Held in the Collections of the National Museum of Korea" (국립중앙박물관 소장 석암리 194호분 출토 죽간) and stated that "the material is bamboo" and that "they are common bamboo tablets typical of the Chinese Han dynasty but there were no writings on them," according to an analytical research based on bamboo tablets curated at the museum.

Ahn also reported that "the surface had been painted over and, although texts were not found, there were holes at the top and bottom [of the tablets] with evidence of two to three bunches of string ties that can be interpreted as an area used to write the title of the bamboo tablets."

Prior to that, bamboo slips representing chapters from the Analects of Confucius that had been excavated in 1992 from the wooden coffin in Tomb 364 at Chŏngbaek-tong (貞柏洞) in Pyongyang (in the Nangnang Ward) had drawn considerable attention in academia.

Ahn pointed out that the presence of the four Han commanderies, including Lelang, played an important role in building momentum in the spread of the writing culture of early Korea.

Ahn's research will be published in the National Museum of Korea's Journal of Korean Art and Archaeology forthcoming next week.

Kim Jae-hong 김재홍, Director of the Korean Mokkan Society and Professor of Korean history at Kookmin University, emphasized the fact that "the wooden tablets excavated from Puyŏ and the bamboo tablets excavated from Lelang were revealed to the public for the first time," and that "the wooden tablets from Puyŏ were introduced to the public for the first time since excavation, while the bamboo tablets from Lelang, that had been excavated during the Japanese colonial period, had only recently been confirmed to be made of bamboo."



Original newspaper article (in Korean) available here.
Source: Seoul -- Yonhap Newspaper; 13 January 2013.
Reported by Hwang Yoon-jung.