Image default
History South Korea

The Jeulmun Pottery Period is an Archeological era in the Korean prehistory. It is broadly spanning the period of 8000 – 1500 BC. This period subsumes the Mesolithic (middle of the stone age) and the Neolithic (New stone age) cultural stages in Korea. Because of the early presence of pottery, the entire period had also been subsumed under a broad label of “Korean Neolithic”.


The Jeulmun Archaeological sites 

Jeulmun pottery or Jeulmun vessel (also known as Comb ceramic or Pit-comb ware in Europe) is a type of pottery subjected to geometric patterns from a comb-like tool, Hence Jeulmun means “Comb-patterned”. The Jeulmun pottery period is names after the decorated pottery vessels that form a large part of the pottery assemblage consistently, especially over the 4000 – 2000 BC. A boom in the archaeological excavations of Jeulmun period sites has since mid-1990 increased knowledge about this important formative period in the prehistory of East Asia.

The Jeulmun period was a period of hunting, gathering, and small-scale cultivation of plants. Archaeologists sometimes refer to this life-style pattern as “Broad-spectrum hunting-and-gathering”.

Pottery excavated from Amsa-dong (source)

Incipient Jeulmun

The origins of the Jeulmun are not well known, but raised-clay pattern Yunggimun* pottery appear at southern sites (such as Gosan-ni in Jeju-do island and Ubong-ni on the seacoast in Ulsan.) Some archaeologists describe this range of time as the “Incipient Jeulmun period”. They suggest that the Gosan-ni pottery dates to 10,000 BP. Samples of the potter were radiocarbon dated, and although one result is consistent with the argument that pottery emerged at a very early date, other dates are somewhat later. If the earlier datings are true, Yunggimun pottery from Gosan-ni would be (along with central and southern China, the Japanese archipelago, and the Russian far east) among the group of the oldest known pottery in the world of prehistory.

Early Jeulmun

The early Jeulmun period (6000 – 3500 BC) is characterized by Deep-sea fishing, hunting and small semi-permanent settlements with pit-houses (Houses that are partially build under the ground, covered by a roof). Radiocarbon evidence of coastal shellmidden sites (such as Ulsan Sejuk-ri, Dongsam-dong and Ga-do Island) indicates that shellfish were exploited, but many archaeologists maintain that shellmiddens (or shellmound sites: an archaeological feature consisting mainly of mollusk shells) did not appear until the latter Early Jeulmun.

Middle Jeulmun

Archaeologists estimated that at least 14 middle Jeulmun period (3500-2000 BC) sites have yielded evidence of cultivation in the form of carbonized plant remains and agricultural stone tools. Another example of Middle Jeulmun cultivation is found at Jitam-ri (Chitam-ni) in North Korea. A Pit-house at Jitam-ri yielded several hundred grams of some carbonized cultigens that North Korean archaeologists state is millet. However, not all archaeologists accept the grains as domensticated millet because it was gathered out of context in a unsystematic way. The orginal description is in Korean only and only black-white photo’s exist of this find. Cultivation was likely a supplement (to a subsistence regime) that continued to heavily emphasize deep-sea fishing, shellfish gathering, and hunting. “Classic Jeulmun” or “Bitsalmunui” pottery in which comb-patterning, cord-wrapping, and other decorations  appeared at the end of the Early Jeulmun era and is found in West-central and South-coastal Korea in the Middle Jeulmun.

Pot at Gwangju National Museum (source)

Late Jeulmun

The subsistence pattern of the late Jeulmun period  (circa 2000 – 1500 BC) is associated with exploitation of shellfish. The settlement pattern registered the appearance of interior settlements (such as the archaeological sites Sangchon-ri and Imbul-ri). The archaeologists suggest that environmental stress on shellgish populations and the movements of people into the interior prompted groups to become more reliant on plants in their diets. The subsistence system of the interior settlements was probably not unlike that of the incipient early mumun pottery period circa 1500 – 1250 BC. (this will be covered later on by Saetori, we will add a link here too). Then a small scale shifting cultivation (called Slash-and-burn) was practiced in addition to a variety of other subsistence strategies.The late Jeulmun is roughly existing in the same period as Lower Xiajiadian culture in Liaoning, China. Archaeologists have suggested that Bangudae and Cheonjeon-ri, a substantial group of petroglyphs panel in Ulsan, may date to this sub-period. However, this is still the subject of some debate.

* Yunggimun Pottery or Yunggimuntogi is the oldest type of Korean Pottery. The name literally means “Raised-design pottery”. It has also been called “pre-slant earthenware”. Dated to circa 5000 BCE Yunggimun pottery were flat-bottomed wares decorated with relief designs, raised horizontal lines and other impressions. This style of pottery has been found in Northeast Korea in additions to other regions.

Sources: Wikipedia, google, Header image

Related posts

Heungbu and Nolbu



Marjoleine Spitse

Artist: Jackson Wang

Marjoleine Spitse