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Daegokcheon Stream Petroglyphs

Date of Submission: 11/01/2010
Criteria: (iii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Cultural Heritage Administration
State, Province or Region:
Ulsan Metropolitan City
Ref.: 5486

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party



Bangudae Petroglyphs: N35 36 50 E129 10 28

Petroglyphs in Cheonjeon-ri: N35 36 53 E129 10 25

The Daegokcheon Stream Petroglyphs are a work of inscribed rock art engraved on three-kilometerlong cliffs located in the Daegokcheon Stream, which include the Bangudae Petroglyphs in Daegokri (National Treasure No. 285) and the Petroglyphs in Cheonjeon-ri (National Treasure No. 147).

The upper reaches of the Daegokcheon Stream, where the Daegokcheon Petroglyphs are located, have remained nearly intact in their natural state since the prehistoric age, along with diverse relics that date from the prehistoric age to the historic era. Not only the prehistoric ecosystem but also the harmonious relationship between nature and humans from the starting point of the historic age to the modern era can be found in this historic site.

"Bangudae" means "a tall, flat rock resembling a tortoise". The rocks between the Bangudae and the Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs and their surrounding area boast beautiful scenery in this site. During the Joseon Period (1392-1910), this scenic location served as a gathering place where the literati class indulged in poetry and music, and the many inscriptions and drawings engraved on these rocks reflect their enjoyment of the place. In this sense, Daegokcheon Stream, which links the two petroglyph sites, serves as a "living museum" where diverse relics dating from the prehistoric era to the historic age are organically connected.

The rock face of Bangudae, measuring three meters in height and ten meters in length, is located on the lower part of a 30-meter-tall cliff that faces north. The eastern end (left-hand side) of the rock face, which curves to the west, bears numerous traces of rock art, but has been exposed to severe weathering. More engravings are distributed around the center of the rock face, which is well preserved. More than 300 images were found through investigations.

The engraved images include: humans (14), animals (193), ships (5), tools (6), and unknown (78). Animals, both sea animals and land animals, are depicted as being pregnant, indicating the ancient people's earnest desire for securing food and fertility.

Among sea animals, whales are particularly numerous. They are varied in type and depicted in a level of detail that has earned the monument its reputation for being the world's most famous whale petroglyphs. The many images of whales suggests that they were an object of worship for premodern people who lived in this area during the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, and signify their beliefs about life, death, and the afterlife.

Both the peck-and-polish technique and grinding methods were used for the engravings, and the images were made by chiseling out (1) the silhouettes of the figures, or (2) detailed line drawings, including the figures' bones and organs. These methods of carving and detailing provide significant information about both the petroglyphs-helping to estimate their age by analyzing the techniques and overlapping of images-and its cultural characteristics-based on other cultures that used the same techniques.

The Bangudae rock art is presumed to date back from the late Neolithic Age to the Bronze Age. The remaining images, which number about 300 and feature a variety of humans and animals against the backdrop of land and sea, constitutes a precious heritage, both culturally and academically, as few such examples have been found around the world.

The Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs include the earliest engravings in Korea. The Petroglyphs' most unique feature is their overlapping images, which include animal and human figures from the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age, abstract patterns presumably from the middle Bronze Age, line engravings of humans and animals from the Iron Age, and inscriptions from the Three Kingdoms Period and the Unified Silla.

In this regard, the site where the Cheonjeon-ri rock art sits and its surrounding area are presumed to have long been considered sacred, from the prehistoric age to the historic era.

The earliest engravings of animals and humans in the Cheonjeon-ri rock art, which are believed to have been influenced by Siberian culture, are recognized as invaluable materials for the geneaology of prehistoric Korean culture. While the Bangudae Petroglyphs are known for their images of sea animals, the Cheonjeon-ri rock carvings mostly consist of land animals, especially large-horned deer. Thus, both sites are significant as they can be compared to each other, and both aid in the study of cultural change. The Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs date back to the late Neolithic Age or the early Bronze Age.

The abstract images of the Cheonjeon-ri rock art that are presumed to date back to the middle Bronze Age include many continuous overlapping lozenge patterns, concentric circles, spirals, and zigzags. Although no clear explanations have been made of these images as they are very rare on the Korean Peninsula, simlar abstract patterns have been discovered in Siberia and northern China. This serves as evidence of the close relationship between the prehistoric cultures of Korea and Siberia.

Very strong, sharp iron tools were used for the line engravings from the Iron Age in the Cheonjeonri Petroglyphs. The engraved lines are too thin to be discernible. The features include a procession of people on horseback or leading horses, people on sailboats, animals that look like dragons, concentric circles, spirals, entangled straight lines, and human figures wearing clothes that are also found on pottery from the Three Kingdoms Period. These images are presumed to date to around the 5th or 6th century, as are the nearby inscripions, but both are hardly connectable with respect to content; therefore, the drawings are believed to predate the inscriptions. These images are believed to depict the earliest form of the Silla costume during the Three Kingdoms Period.

The inscriptions, the latest carvings on the Cheonjeon-ri rock panel, are about Hwarang, or the aristocratic youth corps of Silla, who were trained there. The records include the young members' names, years, their training programs, and stories about the king and the royal family. The royal family's Taoistic practices and offerings to the heavens, as well as the relationship among royal family members, have been found. These rare records have earned the inscriptions their reputation as invaluable monuments.

The Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs are surrounded by various other petroglyphs including the engravings of human footprints, making it the most plentiful area for prehistoric rock art on the Korean Peninsula.

The Daegokcheon Stream area, where many prehistoric relics including petroglyphs are distributed, has been very well preserved, and the beautiful scenery has served as a good venue for many people to enjoy nature and cultural activities. This is why systematic measures for preservation of the two petroglyph sites are needed.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

As with other Korean petroglyphs, the Bangudae and Cheonjeon-ri engravings, the foremost artifacts of the Daegokcheon Stream Petroglyphs, belong to the Northeast Asian petroglyph culture that ranges from the southern part of Siberia in Russia to Mongolia and the northern territory of China.

Located at the southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula, these two petroglyphs sit at the end of the Northeast Asian petroglyph range. The engraved stone marks the border of this regional petroglyph culture, and clearly contains uniquely Korean features even while falling within the Northeast Asian style of rock art.

In addition, the Bangudae rock carvings are recognized as one of the world's most outstanding whale petroglyphs. This particular motif is found as far away as Canada, the United States and Mexico, and is sparsely distributed along the Pacific coastline in accordance with the migration routes of whales, which start east of Korea and continue through the Aleutian Islands and the Alaskan waters to southern California.

Animals are depicted in highly realistic detail with respect to their ecological characteristics. For this reason, the Bangudae engravings are regarded more highly than other East Asian petroglyphs, including those in Korea. In particular, the fact that the whales are drawn in enough detail to be identifiable by species-including gray whales, right whales, humpback whales, sperm whales, and killer whales-gives the engravings an outstanding quality that is hard to find in other rock art.

The port of Ulsan, where the Bangudae rock art is located, has served as a center for the whaling industry on the Korean peninsula since the launch of modern whaling. Naturally, people living in the area have long depended on whales for their livelihood and have even worshiped them as objects of faith. A whale shrine still stands, and whales continue to be worshipped as gods. The Bangudae Petroglyphs suggest that this tradition may have been practiced as early as the late Neolithic Age and the Bronze Age, reflecting the significance of whaling on the Korean peninsula as well as internationally.

The Bangudae Petroglyphs are also important aesthetically, given the artistic methods used, including the realistic depiction of real animals' ecological characteristics and the fact that each drawing serves not as a simple element in a group of unrelated pictures but as single motifs arranged in a specific order within a total composition .

The rules of composition that determined how the surface and line engravings would be arranged, such as the avoidance of overlapping images, provide help to determine the age of the relics and aid in research on the cultural changes for the artists living at the time.

With its large surface area (3x10 meters) covered in a variety of carvings that date from different historical eras, revealing the inhabitants' changing artistic techniques and aesthetic tastes, the rock art is a rare specimen.

The site of the Bangudae engravings and its surrounding area contains many historic relics that date back to the age of dinosaurs, before the birth of human beings, and continue up to the modern era. This broad historical distribution concretely demonstrates the historical position/importance of the Bangudae Petroglyphs vis-a-vis the span of Korean history.

The Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs are unique in that they are layered, historic rock art that dates from the prehistoric age to the historic era. Each layer contains symbolic engravings from over the years, ranging from animal and human figures, abstract patterns, line carvings of animals and humans, to inscriptions. Few such panels-on which thousands of years of human history are inscribed-have been found around the world.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


The Cheonjeon-ri and Bangudae Petroglyphs were first discovered in December 1970. A research team for Buddhist sites from Dongguk University first introduced this prehistoric rock art to academics and published the first official report in 1984. Thereafter, Bangudae has been recognized as a representative form of prehistoric Korean art, and all books on Korean art history open with a reference to this engraved stone.

The Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs are found on a retangular panel (2.8 x 9.7 meters) and its surrounding rock surfaces. The drawings and inscriptions engraved on the narrow panel overlap in four layers according to the years of carving, marking the uniquenss of this thousands-of-years-old historic monument. Meanwhile, the best preserved part of the Bangudae Petroglyphs is the central panel. This 3 by 10-meter surface, engraved with over 300 motifs, is globally recognized as a rare and invaluable monument.

The Daegokcheon engravings can be broadly divided into two categories: simple silhouettes and detailed line carvings. The difference between these two techniques relatively clearly reflects the difference in time period and culture, and are therefore very important for understanding the culture and lifestyles of people at the time that the rock art was created, as well as the chronology. According to the research that has been done so far, simple silhouettes have been found to predate figures with detailed line carvings.

The simple silhouette images are mostly whales, with some land animals included, while the detailed line carvings are mostly land animals, such as wild boars and tigers, with a small number of sea animals. This difference in content according to method indicates that there was a different in time period and cultural background for the artists who were using these techniques.

As previously noted, the Cheonjeon-ri and Bangudae Petroglyphs are regarded as particularly valuable because of their adjacent location and a series of linked prehistoric and historic sites from diverse periods located between the two rock carvings.

The Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs are famous for their animal and human figures, geometrical patterns, fine-lined engravings, and overlapping inscriptions from the Silla Period (57 B.C.-935 A.D.). As the content and techniques used to carve and detail the figures are distinctive, stylistic changes in art according to time period can be ascertained from this engraved stone. Moreover, it is also recognized as an important resource not only for East Asian art history but for world art history.

Given these invaluable properties, the Cheonjeon-ri and Bangudae rock carvings of the Daegokcheon Stream Petroglyphs have been recognized as one of the most important cultural heritages of Korea in need of preservation. As a result, the Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs were designated as National Treasure No. 147 on May 4, 1973, and the Bangudae engraved stone was designated as Monument No. 57 (Gyeongsangnam-do, then administrative province) on August 2, 1982, followed by the designation as a National Treasure on June 23, 1995.


The Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs are historic monuments on which abstract patterns, detailed line carvings from the Iron Age, and inscriptions from the Three Kingdoms Period overlap in four layers. The unique images in this historic rock art, which are distinguised from the Bangudae carvings, provide higly detailed information on Korean history. The Bangudae Petroglyphs have also remained nearly intact since they were first engraved. The outstanding diversity and accuracy of the engraved images help to restore the lifestyles of the people and the ecosystem from that time. Listed below are the types of figures depicted in the Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs.

  • Humans (8)
  • Animals -artiodactyla (123), carnivore (67), reptile (1), bird (2), cetacean (5), fish (3), unknown (7)

As the Cheonjeon-ri rock art consists of diverse engraved images that date to different ages, this classification according to the types of drawings is incomplete. But it is still helpful in understanding the overall content of the images. Meanwhile, the actual number of drawings must be larger than those counted above because many images overlap or are severely weathered. Listed below are the types of figures depicted in the Bangudae engraved stone.

  • Humans - full-length figure (12), face (2)
  • Animals - artiodactyla (57), carnivore (26), cetacean (58), chelonian (6), bird (3), fish (2), unknown (41)
  • Tools - ship (5), fence (2), net (2), weapon (1), others (1)
  • Unidentified - kind (24), shape (54)

As shown above, of the 296 figures investigated in 2000, 177 figures on the Bangudae panel are indentified, with 24 items still unknown. Animals were the main subject of the engravings, but human figures were also found along with 11 tools. With its scenes of whaling, shamanic rites and tiger hunting, this one-paneled rock art offers a complex glimpse into the society at the time, serving as an encyclopedia of prehistoric life.

Comparison with other similar properties

In the country

About half of all prehistoric Korean petroglyphs fall into the same category as the Yangjeon-ri engravings in Goryeong, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Petroglyphs in Anhwa-ri, Goryeong, in Chilpo-ri, Yeongil, in Boseong-ri, Yeongcheon, in Gaheungri, Yeongju, in Ansim-ri, Gyeongju, in Seokjang-dong, Gyeongju, and in Daegok-ri, Namwon all belong to the same category of the Yangjeon-ri engravings.

Except for the Seokjang-dong Petroglyphs in Gyeongju, which contain a relative variety of images compared to others, most of the aforementioned engravings uniformly feature a unique shieldshaped figure (presumed to be the face or mask of a god).

In contrast, the Cheonjeon-ri and Bangudae engravings in the Daegok-ri Petroglyphs depict animals and humans in detail. In particular, the Cheonjeon-ri panel, which contains abstract patterns as its main images and detailed line carvings from the Iron Age that have never been found elsewhere on the Korean Peninsula, is a representative form of prehistoric Korean art along with the Bangudae Petroglyphs.

According to research, the Bangudae and Cheonjeon-ri Petroglyphs are presumed to be older than the Yangjeon-ri-type engravings. Therefore, the oldest engravings found in the Bangudae rock art can be regarded as the starting point of all Korean petroglyphs.

As for the figures, the Bangudae stone contains both human and animals, most of which are whales. The whale images are a rare find in any country, and they provide crucial information on whaling in the prehistoric era.


Out of the country

Petroglyphs in Siberia, Mongolia, and northern China that are similar to the Bangudae Petroglyphs tend to feature excessively large genitalia, sexual intercourse, or animals mating, which is interpreted as the desire for abundance and fertility. The Bangudae engravings also contain images of large genitalia for the same reason, but there are no scenes of sexual intercourse or animals mating on the Bangudae panels. Instead, animals are depicted as being pregnant with bulging lower bellies.

Most whale petroglyphs found along the Pacific coastline of North America (e.g. petroglyphs in Cape Alava, Washington, the United States, and those in Gabriola Island, Vancouver, Canada) or on the Scandinavia peninsula (e.g. petroglyphs in Nordbladh, Sweden) usually feature only a few whales, briefly chiseled in silhouette or as line drawings, against the backdrop of whaling scenes. The Bangudae panels also contain whaling scenes, but most of the whales are depicted as ascending to heaven, reflecting the spiritual beliefs of prehistoric people and their perceptions of the afterlife.

Hunting and stock-farming scenes are often found on petroglyphs in Siberia, Mongolia, and northern China, and very detailed images of wolves or tigers raiding livestock and people responding with arrows or spears are vividly depicted on the engraved stones. Although the Daeokcheon Petroglyphs also contain images of whales shot with arrows, no definite illustrations of hunting and fishing were discovered. Considerably restrained and figurative descriptions were used to describe hunting and fishing; this is one characteristic of Bangudae that differs from the Siberian and northern Chinese petroglyphs.

Presumably, these differences are attributable to the gap between the two societies' economic culture; while northern groups were dependent on stock farming, people living on the Korean peninsula cultivated crops. In other words, although the Bangudae rock art was influenced by the northern petroglyphs, it also reflects the cultural transformation that occurred when stock farming culture was integrated into an agricultural area.

Consequently, the Daegokcheon Stream Petroglyphs Group merit preservation as one of the world's cultural heritages, given their universal value as a form of prehistoric rock art and their historic and cultural properties as a distinguished treasure of humanity.