Complex of Goguryeo Tombs

From New World Encyclopedia

Complex of Koguryo Tombs*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Goguryeo tomb mural
State Party Flag of North Korea North Korea
Type Cultural
Criteria i, ii, iii, iv
Reference 1091
Region** Asia-Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 2004  (28th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

The Complex of Goguryeo Tombs lies in North Korea. In July 2004, UNESCO awarded the site World Heritage Site status, the first such award in North Korea. The tomb site consists of sixty three individual tombs from the later Goguryeo kingdom, one of Three Kingdoms of Korea, located in the cities of P'yŏngyang and Namp'o.

The Complex of Goguryeo Tombs provides a rare glimpse into the national treasures of North Korea and offers a foretaste of what is to come when North Korea fully opens to international archaeological exploration. The understanding of Korea's origin and early relationship with China will be, as with the Complex of Goguryeo Tombs, advanced.

Complex of Goguryeo Tombs
Hangul 고구려 고분군
Hanja 高句麗古墳群
Revised Romanization Goguryeo gobun(-)gun
McCune-Reischauer Koguryŏ kobun'gun

Complex of Goguryeo Tombs
Chosŏn'gŭl 안악3호분
Hancha 安岳3號墳
McCune-Reischauer Anak Samhobun
Revised Romanization Anak Samhobun


Goguryeo emerged as one of the strongest kingdoms in the north east of China and the Korean Peninsula between the fifth and seventh centuries B.C.E. The kingdom was founded in the present day area of Northern Korea, Northeastern China, a part of Manchuria around 32 B.C.E.; the capital transferred to P'yŏngyang in 427 B.C.E.


Anak Tomb No. 3

Anak Tomb No. 3, a chamber tomb of Goguryeo located in Anak, South Hwanghae Province, North Korea, has gained renown for mural paintings and an epitaph. A part of the Complex of Goguryeo Tombs, Anak Tomb No. 3 was discovered in 1949 with valuable treasures stolen, but murals in good condition. Archaeologists believe that the man and woman in wall paintings wearing Chinese-style dresses depict the royalty buried in the tomb. The structure and murals seem closer to those of Chinese tombs found in Liaoning than to those of Goguryeo.

Epitaph and its interpretation

The Anak Tomb No. 3 has epitaphs that permit archaeologists to determine dates— it is one of few Goguryeo tombs that have epitaphs. The seven-lined epitaph contains the date 357, the personal name Dong Shou (冬壽), his title, his birthplace and his age at death. Accordingly, scholars generally regard this site as the tomb of Dong Shou. Scholars outside North Korea discount the claim that the mausoleum holds the bodies of of King Micheon or King Gogugwon.

Tong Shou

The Book of Jin and Zizhi Tongjian identify Dong Shou as Tong Shou (佟壽). Originated in the Liaodong Commandery, he served to Xianbei ruler Murong Huang of the Former Yan. By order of the emperor, Commander Tong Shou attacked Huang's brother and rival Murong Ren in Liaodong sometime around 331, but he surrendered to Ren after being severely defeated. In 336, however, Murong Ren was killed by Huang and Tong Shou fled to Goguryeo. He spent the rest of life in Goguryeo.

The epitaph reflects the complex situation of Tong Shou and Goguryeo at that time, using Yonghe (永和), the era name of the Eastern Jin Dynasty in Southern China although the era name had already been changed from Yonghe to Shengping in that year. Tong Shou claimed various titles including "Minister of Lelang" and "Governor of Changli, Xuantu and Daifang." The nominal titles indicates his leverage over Chinese in the Korean peninsula. Whether the titles had been given by the Eastern Jin or by himself remains unknown. Scholars associate one of his title "Minister of Lelang" with the title "Duke of Lelang," bestowed by Murong Jun of the Former Yan on King Gogugwon in 354, indicating that the former traitor to the Former Yan became its rear vassal.

Eastern Jin

Although the Eastern Jin had no longer any control over northwestern Korea, evidence points to people's affection for the Eastern Jin. Goguryeo conquered the Lelang and Daifang Commanderies around 313, although full control seems to have eluded Goguryeo which maintained its capital in far-north Wandu. Adding to that, the Former Yan defeated Goguryeo severely in 342. The Chinese apparently enjoyed a high degree of autonomy, taking the lead of the Goguryeo culture until Goguryeo absorbed them into their population.

Many of the tombs, such as the Anak Tomb No. 3, have beautiful wall paintings. The tombs provide the only glimpse we have into Goguryeo culture. Of the 10,000 Goguryeo tombs unearthed in China and Korea, only about ninety have wall paintings. The Complex of Goguryeo Tombs inscribed on the World Heritage Sites List contains the majority of those tombs with wall paintings. Archaeologists believe that the complex had been used as a burial site for kings, queens and other members of the royal family. The paintings found on the tombs offer a unique insight into the everyday life of the Goguryeo period. The strongly colored murals show daily life and Korean mythologies of the time. By 2005, seventy murals had been found, mostly in the Taedong river basin near Pyongyang, the Anak (North Korea) area in South Hwanghae province, and in Ji'an in China's Jilin province.

World Heritage Site Citation

UNESCO awarded the designation World Heritage Site to the Goguryeo tombs' noting the following distinctions:

  • The wall paintings are masterpieces of the Goguryeo period. The tombs themselves reflect ingenious engineering capabilities.
  • The customs of the Goguryeo culture were influential all over East Asia, including Japan.
  • The site offers exceptional insights into the Goguryeo culture, both into everyday life and burial customs.
  • The Goguryeo tombs are an important example of this burial typology.

In May 2006, archaeologists discovered 2,360 individual tombs at the site of the ancient Goguryeo kingdom during work on the Yunfeng Reservoir. They discovered ruins of an ancient city, including a city wall 1.5 meters tall and four meters wide, and a dozen tombs within the city. Evidence suggests the presence of a moat.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Haeoe, Hongbowŏn. Guide to Korean cultural heritage. Elizabeth, NJ: Hollym, 2003. ISBN 9781565912137
  • Lee, Gil-sang. Exploring Korean history through world heritage. Seongnam-si: Academy of Korean Studies, 2006. ISBN 8971055510
  • Suh, Jai-sik. World heritage in Korea. Elizabeth, NJ: Hollym, 2001. ISBN 9781565911710

External links

All links retrieved March 15, 2017.


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