The Korean House - 2.1 Prehistoric Dwelling Sites of the Korean Peninsula

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Understanding Korea Series No.5
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1. Nature & Culture of Korea 1) Prehistoric Dwelling Sites of the Korean Peninsula 2) Formation of Ancient Society and House Patt erns

In the history of mankind, the development of agriculture during the Neolithic era greatly influenced the rise of civilizations. Before farming, people were generally nomadic and lived as hunter-gatherers. Therefore, people tended to live in tent-like structures for mobility or in caves instead of settling down in one place. After people started farming, however, they needed to settle down at least until they were able to harvest crops from the seeds they had sowed. Consequently, some of the indispensable cultural artifacts still existing today include early settler shelters built to withstand the elements and pottery made to store harvested crops. In other words, settlements and pottery were the first inventions made at the beginning of material civilization.

People began populating the Korean peninsula during prehistoric times. Human remains from about 700,000 years ago have been found on the Korean peninsula and further north. People during this time are thought to have inhabited caves as temporary shelters.

Recreated models of prehistoric pit-houses in Amsa-dong Prehistoric Settlement Site, Seoul

On the Korean peninsula, the beginning of Neolithic culture is estimated to have occurred between 10000 to 8000 BCE. People started to settle down in one place and relied on fishing and gathering wild plants to survive. Examples of an earlier form of housing from this period known as a pit-house were also found. A pit-house is a shelter with a recessed floor dug into the ground and a roof that covers the top, which sits close to ground level. Many of the pit-houses were 60 to 70 centimeters deep, 4 to 6 meters wide, with a circular floor layout. The pit-houses’ layout was circular because it was easier and more economical to construct circular roofs. This conical roof frame can be constructed by leaning wooden posts against each other while making one vertex at the top and then covering this frame with grass or leather as protection against harsh weather conditions.

Around 3500 BCE, agriculture promoted rapid development in the style of settlement that occurred. This was followed by the import of the Bronze Age culture in 1000 BCE from mainland China to the Korean peninsula, as well as the beginning of rice agriculture. People still lived in pit-houses, but the circular floored pit-house gradually became shallower and shifted toward an enlarged, rectangular layout. The shallower floor is closely linked to the vertical walls. This means that Neolithic-style pit-houses topped with ground-level roofs transformed in the Bronze Age into dwellings with the roof laid on top of man-made walls. Moreover, the floor layout transformation from the circular to the rectangular was directly related to the growth of the number of family members, as the circular layout presented limitations in terms of enlarging the house’s size and dividing it into rooms.

Archaeological sites of the Bronze Age, which lasted until 300 BCE, have been found throughout the entirety of the Korean peninsula. Most of the settlement sites were found with multiple pit-houses in a group. Some sites showed signs of a communal defense system such as the wooden fences found in Songguk-ri, Buyeo, Chungcheongnam-do, and a water-filled trench, called ho (濠), found in Geomdan-ri, Ulsan in the Gyeongsangnam-do region. In addition to the individual pit-houses, these types of village sites also had traces of public buildings that appear to have been under communal management.

The primitive form of ondol found in Pungnap-dong Historic Site, Seoul

The ondol is the most unique characteristic of the Korean house. Primitive forms of the ondol were found in pit-houses, the advanced pit-houses of the Bronze Age. There was a flue made of stone to send hot air from the fire pit inside the house to the connected chimney located outside the house. This passage was installed on the ground with short stacks of stones used for walls and providing cover. This system allowed the temperature inside the room to be maintained more effectively while preventing smoke from filling the room. The next generation of improved ondol began to use the top surface of this flue as the floor of the living space.

Recreated models of stilt houses in Bonghwang-dong Historic Site (Iron Age), Gimhae

Another type of prehistoric housing in Korea is a stilt house, which was built on top of wooden stilts. This structure was made of wood, so it is difficult to identify the original form in detail. However, the original form can be traced through written and pictured materials. In historical records, we can find two types of primitive housing—hyeolcheo (穴處) and sogeo (巢居), which refer to a pit-house and a stilt house, respectively. Hyeolcheo was described as a house made by digging out a pit, including a horizontally dug cave and a vertically dug ground, like pit-houses. Sogeo literally refers to a house built on a tree. In the Chinese archaeological sites dating back to 6000 BCE, wooden stakes were discovered as evidence of the primitive stilt house. These two prehistorical housing styles are also found in vernacular houses of the East Asian and Southeast Asian regions. Moreover, the ondol and maru, the two unique spatial components of the traditional Korean house, can be thought to have originated from these two historical housing styles.

Understanding Korea Series No.5 A Cultural History of the Korean House

Foreword · Introduction

1. Nature & Culture of Korea

2. The Beginnings of the Korean House · 2.1 Prehistoric Dwelling Sites of the Korean Peninsula · 2.2 Formation of Ancient Society and House Patt erns

3. Hanok: The Formation of the Traditional Korean House · 3.1 Ondol and Completion of the Traditional Hanok · 3.2 Types of Hanok · ARCHITECTURAL FEATURES THAT REFLECT REGIONAL CHARACTERISTICS


5. Integration with Modern Culture · 5.1 New Housing Types aft er the Opening of Ports · EXPOSITIONS AND THE CULTURE HOUSE · 5.2 Transformation of Hanok in the City · AN EXAMPLE OF URBAN-TYPE HANOK: GAHOE-DONG · 5.3 The Emergence of Multifamily Housing · THE TERM APARTMENT|THE TERM APARTMENT|THE TERM APARTMENT

6. Modern Korean Housing · 6.1 Transformation in Korean Housing aft er Liberation · VARIOUS FEATURES OF THE URBAN DETACHED HOUSE · 6.2 The Popularization of the Apartment · SUPPLY OF APARTMENT COMPLEXES

7. The Present and Future of Korean Housing · CHANGES IN INTERIOR SPACES OF APARTMENTS

Glossary · About the Author