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Far East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Jeulmun Pottery Period (Mesolithic / Neolithic Foragers) (Korea)
c.8000 - 1500 BC

The East Asian Ordosian culture had formed the region's primary Palaeolithic culture. Its fading around 30,000 BC had allowed Mesolithic cultures gradually to emerge. One of these was the Jeulmun pottery period. This flourished across territory in the south of the Korean peninsula, extending northwards but not covering the entire peninsula.

The origins of this culture are yet to be explained, with some experts arguing that pottery discoveries at Gosan-ni on Jeju-do Island should be dated to around 10,000 BC as a kind of pre-Jeulmun phase. Southern Early China had its own pottery period in the form of the Peiligang and Cishan cultures, as did the Japanese islands (in the form of the Jomon) and Russia's Far East territory, all of which collectively formed one of the earliest expressions of pottery in the world.

The period is rather long, archaeologically speaking. It was created by Korean archaeologists to provide a framework which more closely matched that of prehistoric Europe. This is despite there being no visible signs of a Neolithic period in East Asia until about 3500 BC, some three millennia after Europe experienced its 'Old Europe' Neolithic start.

To allow better definition and cataloguing, the Jeulmun period has been sub-divided into four periods: Incipient (8000-6000 BC); Early (6000-3500 BC); Middle (3500-2000 BC); and Late (2000-1500 BC), perhaps extending to 1000 BC where it intrudes into the Mumun pottery period).

The first two sub-periods cover the Korean peninsula's Mesolithic period, in which modern humans concentrated on hunter-gatherer techniques for their survival. Given the peninsula's long coastline, fishing became an especially important ingredient for that survival. The third and fourth sub-periods cover the Neolithic period. The culture was eventually displaced by the aforementioned Mumun period which brought with it differing pottery styles and more advanced cultivation techniques.

British Mesolithic tool

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Pre-Modern East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History, Volume I: To 1800, Patricia Ebrey & Anne Walthall (Cengage Learning, 2013), from A New History of Korea, Lee Ki-baik (1984, supplied by Michael Welles, but excluding Koguryo), from History Of Korea, Roger Tennant (Routledge, 1996), and from External Links: Ancient History Encyclopaedia, and New World Encyclopaedia, and History of Manchuria, and Jeulmun (Incipient) Pottery (National Museum of Korea), and Jeulmun (Middle) Pottery (National Museum of Korea).)

c.8000 BC

This marks the start of the 'Incipient' phase of the Jeulmun pottery period in the Korean peninsula, which lasts until 6000 BC. Despite the label of the Jeulmun pottery period being used to describe the entirety of the peninsula's Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, this is essentially a Mesolithic period culture alone.

Jeulmun pottery
Pottery with the raised Jeulmun period designs has mainly been found in the eastern and south-eastern coastal regions of the Korean peninsula, with its main production period being between around 6000-4000 BC, predating the appearance of comb-pattern pottery.

Pottery first appears in the Korean peninsula (although see the introduction above for a proposed earlier date of 10,000 BC). Known in modern Korean as Yunggimuntogi (Yunggimun pottery), it is flat-bottomed, decorated with relief designs and various impressions to create a pattern.

Also known as 'Pre-Slant' earthenware, it may reach a height of creation and distribution around 5000 BC. Comb pattern pottery of the Jeulmun appears after 7000 BC.

c.6000 BC

The 'Early' phase of the Jeulmun pottery period in the Korean peninsula begins around this time, covering the later Mesolithic and lasting until 3500 BC. The same period in what will become China falls midway through the regionally-limited Peiligang culture of the Yellow River. Deep-sea fishing and coastal foraging become key food providers for the Mesolithic population in the peninsula.

c.3500 BC

This date marks the start of the 'Middle' phase of the Jeulmun pottery period. Essentially covering the beginnings of a true Neolithic period in the peninsula, it lasts until 2000 BC. Comb-patterning on pottery comes to encompass the entire outer surface of the pot up until the end of this period. Similar pottery styles can be seen in communities across East Asia and in Japan's Jomon culture.

Jeulmun comb pattern pottery
Comb-pattern pottery (bitsalmunui togi) began in the mid-western region of the Korean peninsula before quickly spreading to the rest of the peninsula.

c.2000 BC

This point marks the start of the 'Late' phase of the Jeulmun pottery period, which lasts until a point around 1500 BC (or perhaps as late as 1000 BC). The focus is now on subsistence farming and a move into the peninsula's interior, with the coast being less exploited than during the Early Jeulmun.

This stage is roughly contemporaneous with China's Lower Xiajiadian culture, and would seem to occur largely to the south of the semi-legendary state of Old Choson which is much more heavily tied to the proto-Korean Seo Dansan culture, simultaneous to the first appearance of farming cultures in what will become Vietnam.

c.1500 BC

The final stage of East Asia's Jeulmun pottery period in the Korean peninsula now fades, to be succeeded by the Mumun pottery period, possibly as an incursion by new arrivals rather than a local progression.

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