Engraving may provide hint of tomb’s occupant

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Engraving may provide hint of tomb’s occupant

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The sheath of this knife from Silla’s Tomb of Geumgwan was recently found to have been engraved with the words, “King Isaji,” leading to much scholarly curiosity. Provided by the museum

The Tomb of Geumgwan (Gold Crown) is the crown jewel of Silla tombs in that it is where the gold crown - one of the most precious relics of the history of Silla (57 B.C.-A.D. 935), and Korea as a whole - came from, in addition to tens of thousands of accessories, ceramics and beads.

However, compared to the precious relics it contained, little had been confirmed about the tomb. Historians only made an educated guess that as the gold crown was in the tomb, it must have been the tomb of a king or queen, and that because many of the accessories were those of a woman - like earrings and bracelets - the tomb must have contained a woman.

Now one more hint has emerged concerning the tomb, but the mystery only intensifies.

The National Museum of Korea, which keeps a long knife found in the 1921 archaeological excavation of the tomb, said last week that in the process of cleaning and preserving the knife its researchers found an engraving in the sheath made of gilt bronze. The engraving said “King Isaji.”

Officials said this is the first time that a relic that was found with the name of a king from the Silla era that dates before the sixth century.

But the mystery is that King Isaji appears neither in Samguksagi (“The Chronicles of the Three States”) nor Samgukyusa (“The Heritage of the Three States”) - the two often-referred-to accounts of the Three Kingdoms era that consisted of Silla, Goguryeo and Baekje.

Some Silla historians note that during Silla, the word “king” was also used to refer to not just real kings, but the noblemen under kings, according to some historical accounts.

“There is a high possibility that King Isaji was the one buried at this tomb, and he is likely to have been one of the Silla aristocrats,” said Jo Bo-don, a history professor at Kyungpook National University who specializes in the Silla era. “There needs to be a re-evaluation of all Silla tombs that we believed to have been kings’ tombs.”

Some people wonder why the National Museum of Korea is re-handling the relics found 92 years earlier. The Tomb of Geumgwan was discovered during a construction process and reported to the Japanese authorities as the country was then under the Japanese colonization (1910-45).

At the moment, the National Museum of Korea is examining and preserving all the relics discovered by the Japanese as part of its wider campaign to re-assess them and correct misunderstandings. The engraving was covered with a humus layer and discovered after chemicals were applied numerous times.

BY KIM HYUNG-EUN, LEE YEONG-HEE [hkim@joongang.co.kr]

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