My friend Hwang Taesik offered to climb Namsan with me. The mountain, three miles south of town, is studded with some 60 stone Buddhist figures. The trek leads over a rocky trail, and Hwang didn’t want me to have to shoulder a heavy knapsack. Later he said he hadn’t made the climb in years—not since his only son, scarcely a year old, had suddenly stopped breathing, no one knew why. Hwang carried his child up the slope and placed him in a grave mounded with earth. When I asked why he hadn’t told me, he said only that it was a lovely mountain and I had come a long way, financed by sun-bird, to see it.
A lacquered coffin in a wooden chamber was shielded by a layer of boulders 25 feet thick. Fifteen feet of earth covered that, preserving the tomb from robbers in later centuries.
No one offered, of course, but if I had my choice of the 11,500 artifacts found in the tomb, I would indicate a tiny gold ring resembling a tendril of vine. Kyongju’s
A serenity soul deep lives in the heart of Yun Kyung Real, Kyongju artist and sage. In 668 the Silla kingdom conquered its rivals and unified the Korean Peninsula. Kyongju, then known as Sorabol, became the capital and spiritual birthplace of Korea.
Perhaps Silla rulers regarded them as just another palace to move into when the time came.
In 1973 the government decided to excavate tomb number 155, one of 200 here. Some Koreans were disturbed. They tried to stop the excavation, saying that it dishonored the dead and invited bad luck.
The solution? “We excavated with utmost respect for the dead,” said Dr. Kim Choungki, former director of the National Institute of Cultural Properties. “We asked the workers not to laugh or smoke, and we burned incense.
“The tomb took longer to National Museum displays the ring beside gold bracelets, earrings, a gold-plated harness, a gold crown, and two glass cups.
But the most important find, so fragile it requires special permission to see, rests in a locked case, in a locked room, in the National Museum in Seoul. It is a quilted piece of birch bark, a fragment of a saddle mudguard, painted with a dazzling white horse. The horse is flying, tail streaming, clouds flashing by.
Harnesses had been found in Korean tombs before, but this spoke of Central Asian influences filtering through Mongolia and Manchuria down the Korean Peninsula. The find caused the tomb to be called Chonmachong —Heavenly Horse Tomb.
“We also found eggs in the coffin,” Dr. Kim added.
“Seven eggs. One or two actually intact. To nourish the dead.”
Of fragments such as eggshells do we reconstruct empires.