Kitora Tomb Originates in Koguryo Murals


By Chon Ho Chon
Chairman of the Korean Archaeological Association in Japan

Japanese archaeologists on Mar. 6 announced that they had found two sacred creatures in the stone chamber and a chart, the sun and the moon, on the ceiling of the Kitora Ancient Tomb in Asukamura, Nara prefecture, after completing with a tiny high-resolution camera the investigation of the mural which is believed to date from the seventh or eight century.

The researchers described as the discovery of the Kitora tumulus "first class"one.

The newly found mythological beasts are known in Korea as "Chongryunghor a blue dragon on the east wall and "Paekhoh or a white tiger on the west wall. They are two of the four gods which represent the four directions of north, south, east and west. "Hyunmuh - a snake crossed with a tortoise - on the north wall, has already been found inside the tomb in 1984, but another god named "Chujak" or red sparrow on the south wall has not been located yet.

A tomb with a mural painting the four gods is a typical pattern of Koguryo murals which can not be seen in China.

What particularly impressed the researchers in the Kitora discovery was the accuracy of the astronomical chart which features the polestar in the center, surrounded by more than 1,000 other stars thought to include the Milky Way. According to researchers, it also showed gold and silver stars linked by red lines to indicate a constellation, and gold and silver circles are thought to represent the sun and the moon.

They agree that the Kitora chart represents a higher astronomical knowledge than that of Takamatsuzuka Tomb which was uncovered in 1972, located in about 1.5 kilometers north of Kitora.

The new findings will deprive the Namsonsunu Chart of China in the 13th century of the title of the oldest chart of this type.

A further look at the historical findings leads to the question of who drew it with what kind of technical basis and astronomical knowledge.

What should be given consideration here is the traditional astronomical knowledge and chart of the Kojoson era (Old Korea) and era of Koguryo, Japan's neighbor country.

According to a recent survey, there have been about 14,000 dolmens unearthed around Pyongyang. They were created during the Kojoson period. These include about 200 with engraved constellations such as the Great Bear.

The Kojoson's astronomic science was inherited, developed by Koguryo people to flourish in the style of murals.

Among 90 Koguryo wall-painting tumuli, 21 are with an astronomical chart. They include Tokhwa-ri Tumulus No. 1, No.2, Chinpa-ri Tumulus No. 4, Yaksu-ri and Tokhun-ri,.

The Koguryo stone-engraved charts recognized as a 6th century product depict 1,464 stars in 82 constellation, centering on the pole. They contain not only red lines and gold circles like those formed in the Kitora mural, but also pole circles and longitude circles. Contents of the stone-engraved chart were reflected in the Chart of Heavenly Bodies, the oldest Korean chart produced in 1395.

It is a foregone conclusion that the Kitora mural belongs to the category of Koguryo's four-god wall-painting tumuli.

Some Japanese experts claim the Kitora chart expresses an old Chinese philosophy, pointing out the fact that the Kitora Paekho points to the north while Koguryo Paekho to the south.

However, there is a north-directed Paekho in Chinpa-ri Tumulus No.4, a typical four-god wall-painting chart in the 6th century. The only thing which makes the Chinpa-ri present a contrast to the Kitora chart is that the former's Chongryun points to the north.

It is not coincidental that Kitora was uncovered in the area which was under strong influence of Koguryo culture. Surrounding the tomb are Asuka Temple which adopts Koguryo's typical temple arrangement style of one tower plus three main halls, and tombs of Korea-related emperors and residences of Korean immigrants including the yamatonoaya clan.

The models of Kitora Paekho, Chongryung and Hyonmu were Koguryo mural paintings, and those who constructed the Kitora Tomb and drew wall-paintings were a group of Koguryo painters and Koguryo technocrats named imakinotehito in Japanese who were well versed in Koguryo's advanced astronomical knowledge.

The person who was buried there must be a king-class leading figure who has a close relationship with Korea as he chose to be solaced by the four gods, wishing for his continued dignity after death.

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