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12 March 1999
Saving the Korean megaliths

The Korean Peninsula has over 40 percent of the world's prehistoric stone monuments, which are also destroyed here at the fastest rate in the world. The World Megalithic Association (WMA), an international organization that preserves and surveys megalithic culture, proposed a legislation to protect these relics here. There are presently about 60,000-70,000 megalithic remains from the Neolithic Age around the world. According to the association, some 25,000 exist in Korea. Thirty years ago, there were some 80,000 dolmens and standing stones identified around the country. Now over 60 percent of them have been destroyed due to land development, construction and public ignorance of their values, Yoo In-hak, WMA president, said.
     Korean dolmens, with the largest one being 7.1 meters long and 5.5 meter wide, come in three different shapes, known as northern, southern and mixed types. The first kind, also called a table type is believed to have been influenced by Siberian culture. A high capstone is supported by two or four upright stone slabs, which are above the ground. In the southern type, supporting stones are erected between an underground chamber and capstone on the ground, while the mixed type consists of an underground chamber covered by a stone slab without supporting stones. There used to be a string of dolmens, stretching 2 km over low hills in the region, until the land was converted into farmland and rice paddies. Only five of them remain now.
     Megalithic relics in four countries are currently on the Unesco list. Those in Korea should be considered since they also have a lot of historic value, Yoo said. The association is trying to develop these sites into tourist attractions. We expect that in 2000, Korean megalithic sites will draw over 2 million tourists including 200,000 foreigners, which accounts for 20 percent of foreign travelers in Korea last year, he said. But development will be carefully done so as not to damage the sites, he added. The association is also planning to hold the World Megalith Festival next year, which will be the first international cultural and academic event devoted to megaliths.
     Yoo hopes the festival will help rally people around the world behind the association's cause. Megalithic culture is the first and greatest common cultural heritage of humans, originating from when the world had no borders, he said. To ensure the success the inaugural world festival, the association will hold a preliminary festival in Kochang in September and October with various programs, including photo exhibitions, demonstrations on constructing dolmens and folk art performances by troupes from five nations.

Source: Korean Herald

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