Roof tiles help tell story of past, heritage

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Roof tiles help tell story of past, heritage

It was some time between the second and the first century B.C.E. when Koreans first began to use roof-end tiles, experts estimate. Roof-end tiles unearthed from the Nakrang settlement, established in the now northern Korean Peninsula by the Chinese Han Dynasty in 109 B.C.E., are believed to be the oldest and for that reason, are rendered priceless.

Those rare relics can be observed at the “Korean Roof-end Tile Collection: 100 Years, 100 Highlights” at the YooGeum Museum, along with thousands of years of history that followed on Korean soil.

“It is extremely difficult to come across roof-end tiles from the Nakrang colony,” said Shin Chang-su, director of the Jungwon National Institute of Cultural Heritage. The institute is within the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea.

“There are so many items [at the exhibition] that I’ve never seen before. They’re from such a broad spectrum of regions and eras. They will be crucial tools for discovering what we didn’t know about our past and heritage.”

Shin is a member of the Korean Research Society for Roof Tiles established in 2003. The director of the YooGeum Museum, Yoo Chang-jong, serves as honorary chairman of the society.

Roof-end tiles from the Goguryeo Kingdom take up of the largest portion of exhibit ? one-third of it. “Roof-end tiles from Goguryeo can be easily distinguished from those from other time periods,” explained Shin Eun-hee, curator of the museum. “They are in reddish tone. In reflection of their manly and brave spirits, the patterns are bold, thick and deep.”

As Buddhism flourished as a national religion in the Unified Silla era (676-935), roof-end tiles from the period featured Buddhist teachings and figures like Kalanvinka and the flying fairy.

Celadon roof-end tiles from the Goryeo Kingdom (918 to ­1392) are also showcased. Goryeo-era celadon pottery is considered as one of the nation’s treasures for its quality craftsmanship.

“I never knew our ancient roof tiles came in such a variety,” Shim Jae-yeong, a 70-year old former art professor, said after viewing the exhibit. “They can be easily disregarded as mere building materials. But they are loaded with the philosophies and ideologies of ancient kingdoms.”

The roof-end tile Yoo unearthed in 1978 in the Tappyeong area in Chungju is also on display. It was the very relic that proved that the region was the borderland where the cultures of the Three Kingdoms (Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla) met.

“It is my hope that the scholars and experts discover new facts about our roots from the collection as well as those of other countries in the East Asian region,” Yoo said.

The exhibition runs until Nov. 29.


By Kim Hyung-eun Staff reporter [hkim@joongang.co.kr]
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