Neolithic era bones found in cave give peek into past

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Neolithic era bones found in cave give peek into past

Korean archaeologists uncovered from a cave in the country’s Gangwon Province a wide range of relics that stretch from the Paleolithic Period (the Old Stone Age) to the Neolithic Period.

Researchers from the Yonsei University Museum in Seoul conducted two rounds of excavation in the Maedun Cave in Jungseon County, Gangwon in June that together lasted about a month. The announcement of the findings was made by the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) on Aug. 12.

One of the most striking finds from the exploration is what appears to be a jawbone of a Neolithic man. Researchers say when compared to the remains of the people from Korea’s Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), the molars are noticeably larger and the wisdom teeth are smaller.

Although they have yet to conduct carbon dating on the jawbone, the museum’s director Han Chang-gyun, who led the excavation, said in a recent interview with a Korean newspaper that “the jaw appears to be from some time after 25,000 to 26,000 BC.”

This is based on carbon dating of charcoal found in some parts of the cave.

Other findings include animal bones as well as fragments of pottery from the Neolithic Period. Archaeologists unearthed the bones of deer, bear, boar, fish and shells. They also found pieces of comb-pattern pottery, hammer-shaped stone as well as ground gravel.

One piece of bone, in particular, is shaped like the tip of a harpoon and raises the possibility that the Neolithic people used this tool to fish. Experts say given there is very little archaeological evidence of Korea’s Neolithic people’s fishing activities, this is a meaningful find.

The 25-meter-long (82-foot-long) limestone cave is located in a remarkably scenic cliff in Gangwon, a region known for its steep yet phenomenal mountains. The cave is a relatively large one, officials of the CHA say. It’s 8.5 meters high (at its highest point) and 15 meters wide (at its widest point).

In front of the cave is a stream, suggesting that it would have been an optimal location for prehistoric people. The cave is formed about 8 to 9 meters above the stream.

The CHA noted that although an archaeological expedition in a limited space like a cave is challenging, the excavation led to finding various artificial and natural relics from the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods, helping Korean scholars get a better picture of prehistoric life on the Korean peninsula.

BY KIM HYUNG-EUN [hkim@joongang.co.kr]
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