- Early Korea:Re-thinking Boundaries and Identities
The last ten years have been productive for Korean archaeology and early Korean historical studies. A mature practice of field archaeology in Korea is producing more excellent data every year. There has been a flurry of new scholarship both within and outside Korea, with many studies rethinking and re-evaluating commonly held assumptions and beliefs regarding the interpretation of material culture, and significantly, much more of these data and associated research are available in English than ever before. Of particular note here are the Early Korea volumes produced by the Early Korea Project at Harvard University and the 2015 (vol. 54, no. 1) special issue of Asian Perspectives. These sources have provided excellent introductions and surveys of major periods and issues within early Korean archaeology and history.
The current special issue is the result of a conference on "Interdisciplinary Approaches to Early Korea" held at University of California, Berkeley on 27 April 2017. The conference brought together scholars working on material from the Korean peninsula who blend history and archaeology in interesting ways or eschew traditional approaches entirely. The goal of this conference and this special issue is not to offer another "state of the field" overview, but to highlight the diverse and innovative approaches of early career scholars working outside of Korean academia. As a result, this issue is not strictly archaeological, historical, or focused on any one time period. The articles draw on literary studies, archaeometric techniques, and critiques of mainstream historiography in addition to more traditional historical and archaeological methodologies. It might be better thought of as a showcase of scholarship ranging chronologically from the Mumun, Iron Age, and Proto-Three Kingdoms to the Three Kingdoms periods of Korea, all under the interdisciplinary heading of "Early Korea." Although the contributors cover a variety of different topics and time periods, several coherent themes emerge from their collective work, discussed below. We hope that by providing a frame through which to think through these broader issues, scholars working elsewhere in East Asia will find value in these articles. [End Page 2]
Deconstructing Geonationalism and Redrawing Boundaries
Investigation of the colonial origins and nationalistic biases that underpin much of the foundational work in Korean archaeology and history has been undertaken both inside and outside of Korean academia. While Hyung Il Pai's (2000) study remains one of the most significant critiques of such biases published in English, it has recently been joined by other sophisticated works by Stella Xu (2016) and Yi Sŏngju (2017). Rather than repeating their criticisms, several of the contributors published in this special issue highlight equally pervasive aspects of geonationalism inherent to Korean, Japanese, and Western scholarship of early Korea (Lee 2014). They examine hegemonic textual interpretations and commonly understood regionalisms that presuppose cultural unity within the peninsula and thus constrain our understanding of local cultural dynamics. This is one of a number of new directions being pursued by archaeologists and historians in Korea (for further reflections on archaeological practice, consult recent issues of the premier Korean archaeological journal, Han'guk Kogo Hakpo 韓國考古學報).
Dennis Lee challenges the traditional and textually-derived understanding of Paekche's control of the southern peninsula in the fourth century. He redraws Paekche's southern boundaries through a critical appraisal of the problematic Jingū narrative of the Nihon shoki. Rather than following the "Yamato" or "Paekche" invasion interpretations of previous scholars, Lee suggests that a close reading of the Jingū passage itself entirely refutes the idea of an invasion. Furthermore, the material culture of the supposedly conquered Yŏngsan River Basin region actually points to a culturally independent group largely absent from the historical record.
Similarly, Hari Blackmore deconstructs the Chungdo cultural sphere idea that has pervaded scholarship of the Iron Age archaeology of Central Korea. He argues that the monolithic archaeological cultures usually assigned to Mahan and Ye do not reflect the true complexity of the material in both regions and need to be reevaluated.
Jack Davey, Lauren Glover, and J. M. Kenoyer push back against assumptions of "Korea" as a unit of analysis by situating the peninsula in a larger Asian context...