Compromise to save petroglyphs

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Compromise to save petroglyphs

After a decade of conflict over how to protect the prehistoric Bangudae petroglyphs in the southeastern city of Ulsan, the city government and the central government’s Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) have finally compromised to build a transparent “kinetic dam” around the rock face containing the petroglyphs.

Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, who served as mediator between the CHA and Ulsan city this month, said in a statement yesterday the two parties reached an agreement, thanks to mutual understanding “based on a great cause” of preserving the petroglyphs, which are listed as National Treasure No. 285.

Still, the construction of the dam will be realized only when experts finish the related examinations of the nearby ground, structural safety and other areas, and receive favorable results, the Office for Government Policy Coordination added. Those examinations and other preliminary works will start immediately, the office said.

A memorandum of understanding was signed by CHA chief Byun Young-sup, Ulsan Mayor Park Maeng-woo, Culture Minister Yoo Jin-ryong and Kim Dong-yeon, chief of the policy coordination office, yesterday afternoon, with the prime minister attending.

The Bangudae petroglyphs, measuring 10 meters (33 feet) wide by four meters high, feature about 300 drawings of prehistoric animals, including various whales, tigers, hunting tools and humans.

Some experts consider them to be the oldest petroglyphs to depict mankind’s whale-hunting activities. They are estimated to have been made over a long period of time, from the late Neolithic Age to the early Bronze Age.

The petroglyphs, which were discovered in 1971, have been in danger over the last five decades, as they have spent eight months a year underwater since the construction of the Sayeon Dam in 1965.

Accordingly, when discussions for a solution began 10 years ago in the early 2000s, the CHA wanted to lower the water levels.

But the Ulsan city government opposed it, arguing that it would reduce the clean water supply to the city’s residents. Instead, the city government proposed an artificial dike be built.

But the CHA didn’t like the idea, saying such a dike could damage the petroglyphs in the construction process and would eventually negatively impact the surrounding environment.

The kinetic dam, now accepted as a compromise, will be made of transparent polycarbonate, which will not block sunshine.

And it will be flexible, with an adjustable height which is easy to assemble and disassemble, the prime minister’s office said.

Accordingly, it will minimize the impact on the Bangudae petroglyphs and the surrounding ecosystem, it added.

BY MOON SO-YOUNG [symoon@joongang.co.kr]

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