Jeulmun pottery period

Eumenis Megalopoulos | Mar 5, 2024

Table of Content


The Jeulmun pottery period, according to the revised romanization (Korean: 즐문, Chŭlmun according to the McCune-Reischauer romanization: "comb pottery", 즐문토기: "Jeulmun period") is a period spanning approximately 8000 - 1500 BCE. This period covers the period of Korea's Prehistory which corresponds to the Mesolithic and Neolithic (8000 - 1500).

Like China and Japan, Korea is one of the earliest regions to have produced ceramic vessels. It is thus sometimes considered to be the period of the Korean Neolithic, but it differs from the usual understanding of the Neolithic by the absence of a somewhat intensive agriculture, as the diet remains largely based on fishing, hunting and the collection of shells and nuts in particular. However, the cultivation of millet is attested on several sites: the millet of birds (setaria italica), among others, constitutes a very secondary food supply.

The beginning of this period is marked by the rise in sea level caused by the end of the last ice age: from -8000 to -4000, the sea rose 30 meters to reach its current level and finished making Korea a peninsula, a phenomenon that particularly affected the lowland areas of the Yellow Sea and the Korea Strait. As a result, coastal settlements were gradually drowned as the water rose.

This period is followed by the Mumun ceramic period (1500 - 300).

As of 2015, there are 871 Jeulmun sites (between 8000 and 1500 BCE) on the entire peninsula, of which 222 have been excavated, 148 in North Korea (120,000 km2) and 723 in South Korea (100,000 km2). This difference probably reflects the inequality in the number of searches between the states.

The excavated sites fall into three categories: shell piles with groups of hearths, stacked stone structures and

Over the long term of this period, the population increased, but the grouped settlements remained very small (often between one and five dwellings), except for a few, very rare, large villages - between 24 and 66 dwellings, for phase 3, the period of maximum development. It is not excluded that these large villages are the result of a seasonal or periodic gathering of populations for rituals, festivals and competitions.

At no time is there any sign of vertical social differentiation, of hierarchy. On the other hand, during the development phase of the so-called "comb" ceramics (4000-3000), certain "horizontal" social differences can be perceived in the dwellings. But it could be places of grouping by gender, or occasional

Furthermore, concerning a region located in the north of the peninsula, a study of a site in Northeast China, on the Nen River, near its confluence with the Songhua River, before 6000 A.C., shows evidence of the first Neolithic villages in Northeast China. This study reveals a population highly dependent on hunting, in a vegetal environment with few natural resources. Cultivation then focused on two domesticated varieties of millet (proso millet and "bird millet"), and on plants in the process of domestication, such as soybeans. More common than millets are goosefoot, which is adapted to cultivated areas, and sedges, useful for mats and basketry.

Jeulmun ceramics, properly speaking, i.e. "comb" ceramics, became widespread and dominated all those that preceded it around 3500. Its presence throughout the territory has made it possible to name this ancient period, but the production of ceramics is not limited to "comb" ceramics alone. Traditional chronologies are based on these different ceramic productions, but poses problems. Thus the "Middle Chŭlmun period" can refer to different time sequences, such as 4500-3500, 4000-3000 or 3500-3000, depending on the researchers and the regions considered. However, over this very long period of time, it is necessary to distinguish several phases that can allow an easier approach. An anthropological study on the habitat published in 2015, allows to revise the ideas formerly admitted. The chronology of this study, based on carbon 14 dating (and not on types of ceramics) and is distributed in five phases.

Mesolithic and Phase 1: 8000-5000 BC

The oldest pottery remains are believed to be almost 10,000 AEC. These archaic Jeulmun ceramics, of the Mumun-yang (undecorated and archaic) type, the oldest in Korea as of 2015, were discovered at the site of Gosan-ri , on Jeju Island in the context of microliths, which indicate a late Paleolithic culture. The 10 dwellings are semi-buried. This pottery was also found at the Osan-ri site and finally at the Ojin-ri site. They are undecorated, flat and rest on a flat bottom as if they were used for baking cakes. These sites also contain pottery of the next phase, of the Yunggimun type (with relief decoration).

The site of Gosan-ri was occupied around 8000 B.C. and then, during several phases, until 4000, as was the site of Munam-ri. At the Osan-ri site, most of the 17 dwellings belong to phases 2 and 3 (5000-3000), only one belongs to phase 1. The Ojin-ri site is a rock shelter.

The oldest organic residues deposited on pottery fragments in Korea have allowed their analysis. These are the Sejuk shell pile (7.7 - 6.8 ka cal AP) on the southeast coast and the Jukbyeon-ri site (7.9 - 6.9 ka cal AP) on the east coast of the Korean peninsula. These analyses show that the pottery was used to prepare marine foods, perhaps, it seems, in part to extract oil for use in food preservation. The earliest pottery in Korea is quite similar to that made by other hunter-gatherers, whether in Japan, northern Europe, or North America.

Phase 2: 5000-4000

Raised-design pottery is known as Yunggimun. It comes from the east coast and the south of the peninsula. These are the sites of Osan-ri (hence the type called "Osan-ri"), Munam-ri (Goseong-gun, Gangwon-do), Dongsam-dong (opposite Busan) and Song-do (Yeosu). These ceramics are essentially flat-bottomed bowls decorated with applied, embossed and pinched relief motifs and are reminiscent, in this respect, of pottery from the Jōmon period in ancient Japan. But the Osan-ri site of this period contains another type of flat-bottomed ceramic: decorated on the lip with friezes of small dots, punched or stamped (Apinmun and Jadolmun styles).

The Phase 2 habitats, corresponding to the sites of Osan-ri, Munam-ri, Song-do and Tongsam-do, are small groupings used intermittently. The largest, Osan-ri, has 17 dwellings of which 13 may belong to this phase. This phase is characterized by small semi-permanent villages located near the coast of South Korea: in the northeast for Munam-ri and Osan-ri, in the south for Tongsam-dong (Ubong-ri on the Ulsan coast) and Song-do. The habitat would be made up of semi-buried round huts covered by a roof of branches and corresponding to four or five people. Hunting and fishing are practiced and seafood is also exploited. Phytolithic rice dating from 4300 BC has been found in ceramics, but no conclusions can be drawn.

It is remarkable that certain practices such as shell bracelets, shells transformed into masks and composite harpoons are found much further south: bracelets from the Ryukyu volcanic island chain, composite harpoons from the Final Jomon - Yayoi Initial in the northwest of Kyushu, whereas they are found, corresponding to the Korean Neolithic, in the southeast of Korea and in the Korean Strait. This would tend to prove exchanges between these populations during this period.

Phase 3: 4000-3000

This is the expansion phase of "comb-patterned" pottery ((en): comb-patterned pottery) . This type is named, in Korean, chŭlmun togi or bitsalmuni togi. The parallel incised line decoration appears on flat-base vases (Northeast and East) and on pointed-base vases (Northwest, Central West, and South). On the pointed-base vases of the central west, two types can be distinguished: those that show only one motif, and those that show several, as at the Amsa-dong site. This type of pottery is found in northeastern China but also throughout Eurasia (e.g., the culture of comb ware in northeastern Neolithic Europe). The incisions seem to have been made with a comb, or with tools of the same type giving, by pressure, a series of dots, juxtaposed it gives a line effect. The decorations are often, clearly, hatching, juxtaposed regularly.

During the 4000-3000 phase further evidence of Neolithization appears. Millet cultivation is attested at several sites of the Chŭlmun period. Bird millet ( setaria italica) and common millet (panicum miliaceum) are found. A field devoted to the cultivation of rice on non-flooded land was even discovered. However, the territory at the time was sparsely populated and the investment in the development of the fields was very small. These two factors explain why the small village communities that were growing a little, systematically fragmented and dispersed: as soon as a form of power, beyond the limits of the household, seemed to appear, the community dispersed. Thus no social hierarchy appeared during this very long period in Korea.

The main known sites are Amsa-dong in Seoul, Sopohang (Rasŏn), Gado (Jeonbuk), Osan-ri (Gangwon), Sejuk-ri (Ulsan) and Dongsam-dong in Busan.

Phase 4: 3000-2000

This period extends from 3000 to 2000. The diet is still based on sea fishing, hunting and seafood as shown by the numerous shell piles. However, agriculture exists and stone farming tools have been found, as well as remains of charred plants. At a site on the southeast coast, on the high banks of the Nam River (Jinju), pits dug for the preservation of collections contain, around 5100-4600 cal AP, traces of acorns, millet, soybeans and azuki. We can speak of the Early Neolithic. The pottery is decorated with curved lines.

The number of sites is decreasing significantly and they are less scattered. Most sites are smaller and average less than 5 dwellings, while the largest sites are limited to 38 dwellings.

Phase 5: 2000-1500

The Late Jeulmun (2000 to 1500) saw a decline in the importance of seafood consumption and an increase in inland settlements, making the population more dependent on cultivated plants. Among other techniques, they began to practice slash-and-burn agriculture. There are indications that rice cultivation began to spread in the Han River basin. At that time, as early as the 14th century A.C., it could be rice fields on flooded land. In any case, rice cultivation offers an important production during the following period, that of Mumun ceramics. This is the Final Korean Neolithic.

Kim Jangsuk had suggested that these hunter-gatherer-cultivator groups would have been gradually pushed out of their territory by a new population migrating south, practicing more efficient shifting agriculture and carrying the Mumun pottery culture (undecorated) - we are now entering the Mumun pottery period - which would have had the effect of cutting them off from their hunting grounds. But this opinion is contested by a recent study of late Jeulmun pottery, which shows a slow internal evolution towards the characteristics of Mumun pottery: therefore, there is no need to consider any "invasion", the evolution would have occurred locally.

The beginning of this period is marked by the rise in sea level caused by the end of the last ice age: from -8000 to -4000, the sea rises 30 meters to reach its current level and ends to make Korea a peninsula. A phenomenon that particularly affected the plain areas of the Yellow Sea and the Korea Strait. As a result, coastal settlements were gradually drowned as they retreated from the rising waters. Also, in the future, the hoped-for development of underwater archaeology and excavation techniques will radically renew our knowledge of the Jeulmun period.

The appearance of agriculture and the cultivation of rice in irrigated rice fields, in particular, has long been attributed to a cooling and a decline in fisheries resources for growing populations. The study of consumed plants, by flotation, allows us to notice that the consumption of acorns and millet, or other grasses (of the panicoides type), or even soybeans, represented, at least since the Middle Chŭlmun, the essential food supply, in addition to fishing and shellfish collection. Mammal hunting was still very much present. Differentiated strategies according to the environments and their evolution appeared with a search for diversification, rather than the response to a hypothetical stress (the cooling period is later than this diversification of food resources).


- Internet references

- Ceramic


  1. Jeulmun pottery period
  2. Période de la céramique Jeulmun
  3. La préservation des collectes se fait dans des fosses rondes, souvent groupées. Voir, dans cet article sur un site - dont la partie ancienne (5100–4600 cal AP)- des fosses à glands (ici il ne restait que des épluchures et des tessons de céramique) : (en) Hopil Yun, Min-Jung Ko & Gyoung-Ah Lee, « The Pyeonggeo-dong settlements: sustained farming villages of prehistoric and early historic Korea », Antiquity,‎ après 2011 (lire en ligne, consulté le 7 décembre 2017).
  4. ^ a b c Anthropological Archaeology 12/2015, p. 161.
  5. ^ Anthropological Archaeology 12/2015, p. 180.
  6. ^ Anthropological Archaeology 12/2015, p. 161.
  7. ^ Anthropological Archaeology 12/2015, pp. 160-182.
  8. ^ Early Korea 1, 2008, p. 159.
  9. Imamura, 1996, p. 67.
  10. a b Anthropological Archaeology 12, 2015, p. 161.
  11. Anthropological Archaeology 12, 2015, p. 180.
  12. Anthropological Archaeology 12, 2015, pp. 160-182.
  13. Anthropological Archaeology 12, 2015, pp. 159.
  14. ^ Bale, Martin T. 2001. Archaeology of Early Agriculture in Korea: An Update on Recent Developments. Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association 21(5):77-84. Choe, C.P. and Martin T. Bale 2002. Current Perspectives on Settlement, Subsistence, and Cultivation in Prehistoric Korea. Arctic Anthropology 39(1-2):95-121. Crawford, Gary W. and Gyoung-Ah Lee 2003. Agricultural Origins in the Korean Peninsula. Antiquity 77(295):87-95. Lee, June-Jeong 2001. From Shellfish Gathering to Agriculture in Prehistoric Korea: The Chulmun to Mumun Transition. PhD dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison. Proquest, Ann Arbor. Lee, June-Jeong 2006. From Fisher-Hunter to Farmer: Changing Socioeconomy during the Chulmun Period in Southeastern Korea, In Beyond "Affluent Foragers": The Development of Fisher-Hunter Societies in Temperate Regions, eds. by Grier, Kim, and Uchiyama, Oxbow Books, Oxford.
  15. ^ a b Choe and Bale 2002

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