Remains in Silla tomb suggest an undying love

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Remains in Silla tomb suggest an undying love


A 5th- to 6th-century tomb, above, from Korea’s Silla Dynasty (57 B.C. to A.D. 935) was found in Gyeongju, North Gyeonsang, authorities announced yesterday. In a unique case, remains of a woman and a male sacrifice were found positioned next to each other. Provided by Cultural Heritage Administration

Burying the dead with a human sacrifice was a common custom in ancient Korea.

But in a peculiar case, Korean archaeologists have uncovered a 5th- to 6th-century tomb from Korea’s Silla Dynasty (57 B.C. to A.D. 935) in which a young woman and man are buried together - lying next to each other - raising the possibility that it represents an image of two people making love.

Experts are fairly sure that the tomb was meant for the woman after her death.

The man may have been killed to be buried with her.

The Foundation of Silla Cultural Heritage Research announced yesterday that an archaeological exploration beginning last December found a late 5th-century to early 6th-century tomb made of soil and stone in Hwangnam-dong in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, which was the capital of Silla for almost 1,000 years. In the main chamber where the dead are buried, the remains of a woman and man, both in their 20s or 30s, were found.

Researchers believe the tomb was intended for the woman since her body was lying on its back facing the sky and she wore a finely decorated gold earring. The man was lying next to her and some of his bones were actually on top of hers. He may have been the human sacrifice.

In a separate room within the tomb, the archeologist found artifacts such as a sword, harness and pottery. Based on those finds and historical records about the Silla Dynasty, the foundation says the female was probably a noblewoman who rode horses and used weapons. During Silla, which even had a queen ruling the state at one point in its history, women were relatively empowered.

The entombed man had no accessories related to him, in contrast to the woman, another possible indicator that he was a human sacrifice. The finding of a male human sacrifice would be rare but not unique. Most human sacrifices found in ancient Korean tombs were women and children.

“This is not the first case where a male sacrifice is buried in a female’s tomb,” Kim Kwon-il, the foundation’s researcher, told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “However, male sacrifices were often buried in the room where the artifacts were, as guards, so to speak, for the dead.”


The woman was wearing the earring. Provided by Cultural Heritage Administration

He also noted how the man was placed very near the noble woman. Based on the teeth they found, their heads were likely adjacent to each other. This is unique, Kim says, as human sacrifices in the main chamber of the tomb are usually found next to the feet of the dead.

According to Yonhap News Agency, some historians are not ruling out the possibility that the man and woman were arranged to portray an image of a couple making love. The man’s thigh and calf bones were found on top of the woman. Besides exquisite gold crowns, Silla is known for their explicit clay dolls, often symbolizing their wish for fertility and prosperity, like a man and a woman having intercourse, a man with an extremely large penis and a woman with large breasts.

However, researchers at the Foundation of Silla Cultural Heritage Research said the man was not on top of the woman. One possible theory is that the man was placed on a wooden frame above her and the wood decayed over time.

“The man was not on top of her,” Kim said.

Archaeological exploration of the tomb and others nearby will continue through the end of this month. Experts noted that although the tombs are not of royalty, tombs from the early part of the Silla Dynasty are rare. A total of 24 tombs have been found so far in the region.

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