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Concept art of Asian palace - South Korea

Massive Earthen Ramparts in South Korea Believed to Be Hiding an Ancient Palace


Archaeologists in South Korea believe they have unearthed evidence of a 6th century palace of Ara Gaya, an ancient city-state kingdom, in the modern town of Haman in the Gyeongsang Province of South Korea.

According to an article on Archeology News Network, The Gaya National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage said its archaeologists “excavated earthen ramparts and wooden fences at a site in the town, which is believed to have been built in the 5th or 6th century.” The massive earthen ramparts measured 40 meters (131 ft) long and 8.5 meters (27 ft) high. Kang Dong-seok, a researcher at the institute, told reporters that they are “the largest among the known ramparts in the Gaya confederacy… suggesting it could be a palace where the kingdom's rulers lived.”

The earthen ramparts that may be hiding an ancient palace.

The earthen ramparts that may be hiding an ancient palace. Credit: Yonhap News Agency

Located within an ancient city-state kingdom of the Gaya confederacy, who ruled between 42 BC to 559 AD, is also known as Ana Gaya, Asiryangguk and Alla. When archeologists find super-structures they know the culture who built them had extensive resources and the enormous ramparts suggested to archeologists at the Institute that a “strong political power capable of mobilizing a massive labor force” must have erected them. Inside the ramparts archeologists discovered ruined buildings, collapsed holes and two rows of log cribs that they think might have been “installed to prevent enemy approaches” the Institute told reporters.

The history of the Gaya people is told in the Samguk Yusa, a 13th century collection of legends, folktales and historical accounts relating to the Three Kingdoms of Korea (Goguryeo, Baekje and Sillacentury.) In 2001, Dr Gina Barnes of Durham University wrote Introducing Kaya History and Archaeology in which she translated the Samguk Yusa informing that “in the year AD 42, 6 eggs descended from heaven from which 6 boys were born, who 12 days later became the first kings of the 6 Gaya regions.” The most famous of the 6 prince brothers was called Suro, commonly known as Gim Suro, the legendary founder and king of the state of Geumgwan Gaya.

Map of Gaya

Map of Gaya (CC by SA 3.0)

According to archeologist K.C.Sin “the twelve tribes of the ancient Byeonhan confederacy resolved into six Gaya groups, centered on Geumgwan Gaya,” and developed agriculture and maritime trade, and they minded rich iron ore deposits. An article in Ancient History Encyclopedia written with members of the British Korea Society tells us that “Gaya craftsmen crafted intricate gold and silver crowns and cast iron swords, riveted body armour, helmets, and arrowheads” which were so esteemed ”as to be exported to the north-east region of Korea, China and Japan.”

This iron helmet illustrates the skill of iron-working in the Gaya confederacy

This iron helmet illustrates the skill of iron-working in the Gaya confederacy (CC by SA 2.0)

The same article informs that “clues as to Gaya religious life are offered by artifacts recovered from tombs.” Over 1,000 Gaya tombs have been identified at Pon Kaya alone from which pottery was recovered containing residues of food offerings and royal crowns imitated trees and antlers suggesting to archeologists that “the people had shamanistic beliefs.”

However, like all high civilizations with abundant resources, from the beginning the Gaya states were repeatedly invaded by the neighboring Silla and Baekje kingdoms. Several archaeologists, including scholars such as Sin, have identified a period of transition about the late 3rd century from Byeonhan to Gaya, evident in “increasing military activity and changing funerary customs.” The Encyclopedia Britannica tells us that in the reign of King Chinhŭng (540–576), the military system was realigned and a unique military corps called the Hwarangdo was organized.

This powerful military machine allied with the Chinese T’ang dynasty (618–907) and in 660 AD it subjugated the southeastern Korean state of Paekche. Following almost a decade of fighting, the Silla kingdom successfully expelled the T’ang forces from the northern Korean state of Koguryŏ and in 668 established a unified kingdom in the Korean peninsula under the Unified Silla dynasty.

Top image: Concept art of Asian palace. Credit: Ocean Liu

By Ashley Cowie


Barnes, Gina L. (2001). Introducing Kaya History and Archaeology. In  State Formation in Korea: Historical and Archaeological Perspectives, pp. 179–200. Curzon, London.

Sin, K.C. (2000). Relations between Kaya and Wa in the third to fourth centuries CE.  Journal of East Asian Archaeology 2(3–4), 112–122.

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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