As with all cultures and civilizations, the prehistory period on the Korean Peninsula is the longest period history dating to at least 40,000 B.C.E. Pre-Koreans lived in much the same way that other pre-civilization humans lived throughout the world. Their first religion, Shamanism, infused their life with meaning in the tribal and clan setting. Their leader served as chief shaman who protected the tribe and clan from spiritual forces. Korean Shamanism holds a claim to uniqueness in that the religion continues to this day as a vibrant, important part of every day Korean life. It has often been said, that within every Buddhist, Confucian, Daoist, Christian, (and more recently Moslem and Jew) in Korea lives a Shaman.
Evidence is lacking to support that Koreans today genetically link with the Palaeolithic people who lived on the Korean Peninsula as long as 500,000 years ago. They dwelled in caves and nomadic shelters, used hearths for cooking and warmth, and hunted and gathered. Neolithic people with roots traced to Siberia inhabited Korea by no later than 3000 B.C.E. The pottery tradition that began around 3500 B.C.E. has continued to this day. Koreans have earned praise for the artistic quality of their pottery throughout Korean history.
Anthropologists believe that Koreans maintain an unbroken ancestral lineage with the Neolithic people who lived on the Korean Peninsula. They lived along the seashores, catching fish, harvesting seaweed, and otherwise gaining their nutrition to a large extent from the sea. They hunted, gathering nuts and berries. The communal life, clans formed by blood line, have remained key social characteristics throughout their history. Koreans are assessed as one of the most, if not the most, ethnically homogeneous people in the world.
Their clan and family lineage has been of utmost importance. The practice of clans living in village clusters began during the Neolithic period and has continued to the present time, although the flood of people to the cities in South Korea (especially Seoul) has been altering that tradition since the 1960s. The sharing of communal farming plots, as well as intermarrying in the community, started during the prehistoric period. Shamanism played a vital role in pre-historic Koreans lives.
During the pre-historic period closed to the birth of civilization in Korea during the Proto-Three Kingdom period, the Bronze age marked a dramatic development in life on the Korean peninsula (700 B.C.E. to 300 B.C.E.). Agriculture developed with bronze tools, walled cities like Pyongyang sprung up. Koreans created dolmen sites with megalithic stones, developed sophisticated political systems with kings. Korea stood on the threshold of civilization and the end of pre-history.
Questions remain about the origin of the Korean people. The myth of Dangun, the possibility of the first civilization appearing in Korea in Gojoseon in 2333 B.C.E. is hotly debated among archaeologists and anthropologists in China and Korea. The legend of Gija migrating from China to establish a civilization in northern Korea is also hotly debated. At issue is the question, do Koreans derive their lineage from Neolithic people on the Korean Peninsula or do they trace their roots from China and Chinese civilization? When North Korea opens for full and serious archaeological investigations, the answer may once and for all find an answer. Until then, the best speculation is that Koreans are a combination of indigenous Neolithic people on the Korean Peninsula and immigrants from civilized China.