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  • State Formation in Korea: Historical and Archaeological Perspectives
  • Yangjin Pak
State Formation in Korea: Historical and Archaeological Perspectives. Gina L. Barnes. Richmond: Curzon Press Ltd., 2001. Hardcover. xxi + 245 pp., illustrations, maps. ISBN 0-7007-1323-9.

This collection of eight essays on early state formation in Korea is written by Gina L. Barnes, who has conducted research in Korean archaeology in addition to her primary research focus on Japanese Island complex social development. This book covers roughly a millennium, from the early Iron Age until the beginning of the Unified Silla period in the seventh century A.D. In a series of chapters, she discusses historical and archaeological evidence of protohistoric and early historic societies on the Korean peninsula, as well as in its adjacent areas, from mostly an anthropological point of view.

The first chapter is entitled "Early Korean States: A Review of Historical Interpretations," which was first published in 1990. It summarizes the chronology and processes of state formation on the Korean peninsula, which would help an interested beginner to comprehend most of the basic facts and issues in early state formation in Korea. Seven case studies of states as recognized in the Korean historical literature, including Choson, Chin, Koguryo, Samhan, Kaya, Paekche, and Silla, are successively reviewed and evaluated against a framework of the Western anthropological theory of chiefdom–state transformation.

The second chapter, "Thoughts on Pre-State Cultural Development on the Korean Peninsula from an Archaeological Point of View," was first published in 1983, and thus is the earliest written paper among the eight papers in the volume. It summarizes major problems one would face in researching state origins in Korea, especially as a Western scholar. Some of the issues she found problematic twenty years ago may still exist, such as a lack of settlement pattern studies, while continuous archaeological excavation and discovery since then present new challenges in developing an interpretive framework to accommodate the new archaeological evidence.

The next two chapters deal with pottery technology in relation to state formation in Korea. In Chapter 3, Barnes discusses the development of stoneware technology in southern Korea, summarizing two contending schools in Korean archaeology in postulating the beginning of stoneware production in Korea. She declares her position of subscribing to the later dating system, which postulates the beginnings of stoneware production in the early third century. A more recent consensus among Korean scholars, however, seems to emphasize not only the high-firing technology for stoneware but also a new technology of pottery production in the early centuries in the Common Era, which included a reductive firing atmosphere, the use of a mechanical potter's wheel, and the adoption of new pottery styles, as influenced by the Chinese ceramic technology primarily through the Lelang commandery. In the [End Page 151] following chapter, co-written by M. S. Tite and C. Doherty, fourteen samples of earthenware and stoneware pottery from southern Korea are analyzed and interpreted in relation to their firing technology. Barnes correctly points out the ambiguity in the current archaeological attributions of ceramic wares.

In Chapter 5, entitled "Discoveries of Iron Armour on the Korean Peninsula," Barnes discusses the types of iron armor found in Korean tombs and carries out a sociological study of their occurrences in ranked burials. Because the majority of iron armor has been excavated from the Kaya tombs in southeastern Korea, she also addresses the relationship between Kaya armor on one hand and Koguryo and Yamato armor on the other.

In the following chapter, "Walled Sites in Three Kingdoms Society," Barnes investigates the function of walled sites on the Korean peninsula and considers their roles in the political life of the early kingdoms. Most of the walled sites discussed in this chapter are from southern Korea and include not only those from the Three Kingdoms period, but also those from the United Silla, Koryo, and Choson periods.

Chapter 7, "Introducing Kaya History and Archaeology," is one of the most comprehensive discussions in English of Kaya history and archaeology. Because written sources are scarce and inconsistent, archaeological data, mostly from the Kaya burials, are extensively used to interpret the political, social, and economic aspects of Kaya society. Barnes specifically discusses...