In Korea, you will be met by the 'Pingmae Rock', the largest dolmen in the world, measuring 7.3m in length, 4m in thickness and 280 tons in weight. In front of this rock is yet another impressively large dolmen weighing over 100 tons. The entire Hwasun Dolmen Site is a new world of magnificent dolmens that unfolds wonder after wonder.
The Hwasun Dolmen Site contains a total of 306 dolmens and covers both sides of the Bogeomjae Valley area, which runs 5km between Hyosan-ri Dogok-myeon and Daesin-ri Chunyang-myeon in Hwasun-gun Jeollanam-do Province. In Hyosan-ri, there are 158 dolmens spread out along the extensive mountain ridge. In Daesin-ri, there are 148 dolmens, packed in a narrow mountain valley.
With so many dolmens, you might feel at a loss to decide which ones to see. However, one of the special characteristics of the Hwasun Dolmen Site is that there are many dolmens measuring over 100 tons in weight. In Hyosan-ri, there is a dolmen measuring 5.3m in length, 3.6m in width, and 3m in thickness that is more than 100 tons in weight. In Daesin-ri as well, there is a huge dolmen weighing 280 tons whose cover stone measures 7.3m in length, 5m in width, and 4m in thickness. Try as you may, it is hard to fully comprehend the vast size of these rocks. The only way to really get a sense of the sheer magnitude is to visit Hwasun in person.
Aside from the size of the dolmens, there are several other unique features of the Hwasun Dolmen Site. At this particular site, the shapes of the dolmens are very diverse. In addition to ‘takja’ (table) style dolmen, ‘badukpan’ (checkerboard) style dolmen, and 'gaeseok' (unsupported capstone) style dolmen, there have also been found table-style dolmens that show the transformation to gaeseok-style dolmens. The stone quarry found along with the dolmens is another extremely important site. The quarry serves as an important reference from which we can learn much about the construction of the dolmens, including the stone-cutting process of the cover stones and the transportation of the rocks.
Since the dolmens are located in a mountain valley, they have been well preserved. The surrounding area has remained undeveloped and the dolmen themselves were not even reported in the academic world until 1995, leaving them relatively untouched in their original form. The local residents as well, merely thought of the stones as huge rocks that had been miraculously placed, not as dolmens. Since the dolmens did not sustain any damage throughout the years, when the dolmens at Daesin-ri were excavated, 'garak bakui' (a simple spindle), stone arrowheads, and many other relics from the Bronze Age were unearthed. Through the tombs and the excavated artifacts, scholars were able to make speculations about the construction of dolmens in the early part of the Bronze Age. After being recognized for their research importance, the dolmens were registered in 2000 as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.
There are more than 300 dolmens in Daesin-ri. If you visit the dolmen park, you should first stop by the Daesin-ri excavation site, where an excavation survey was conducted in 1999. The excavation site has remained relatively untouched and helps visitors more easily understand the structure of the dolmens and their artifacts. It is said that through analysis of the charcoal and earthenware shards found here, it is estimated that the Hwasun dolmens are between 2,800 to 2,500 years old.
Pingmae Rock is the largest known dolmen in the world. The name 'Pingmae' comes from the word 'ping', meaning 'to fling or throw something away', and 'mae', which refers to 'MagoHalmi', the mythical fairy grandmother character that appears in the legend of Pingmae Rock. According to legend, Mago Halmi heard a rumor that 1,000 stone pagodas and 1,000 stone Buddha statues (referred to as 'Cheonbul Cheontap') were being built overnight at the Unjusa Temple nearby, so she gathered up stones in her skirt to take to the temple. However, when she was on her way there, she heard a rooster crow and knew it was already day. Upon learning this, she knew she was too late to help with the 'Cheonbul Cheontap' and got rid of the rocks. Since it is believed to be one of the rocks Mago Halmi threw away, the rock is known as 'Pingmae Rock'. On the top of the cover stone of Pingmae Rock is a hole that is said to have been where Mago Halmi urinated on the rock. It is also said that if a woman throws a stone into this hole with her left hand that she will soon beget a son.
Once you come out of the excavation site, find your way to the Gamtae Rock Quarry. Here, there are thousands of traces of where stones were picked at and removed from the rock face. The 'panhom', a stone slab running along a furrow that was used to bring rocks down from higher elevations, also remains intact at the site. Through these things, we can learn a lot more about how people in ancient times were able to quarry rocks. At the bottom of the Gamtae Rock Quarry, are dolmens that lay exposed above ground level as well as rocks that were not brought to completion and left where they lay.
Pingmae Rock is the most famous dolmen of the entire Hwasun Dolmen Site. Weighing in at 280 tons, it is the largest known dolmen in the world. Since it is so big, you might be tempted to think that the stone has always rested in this original position. Take a look at the bottom portion of the cover stone and you will see it was hewn around the support stones underneath. This is proof that the stone was moved from somewhere else to its current location. The writing on the front reading 'Yeoheungminssi Sejangsan' has no connection to the dolmen, but rather shows that the area was used as the family burial grounds of the Yeoheung Min Clan 100 years ago. At that time, it is doubtful that it was known that the large rock was, in fact, a dolmen.
In Hyosan-ri, there are 277 dolmens and a rock quarry. Among these dolmens, is the Goibawi, which is a typical checkerboard-style dolmen propped up by five support stones. Compared to the other dolmens in the area, it is rather large and located at a higher elevation, and seems as if it was used as an altar, not a tomb. Even an excavation survey showed no signs of a tomb room.
Gwancheong Bawi Dolmen Site is the representative dolmen site of Hyosan-ri and contains 54 dolmens in total. Interestingly enough, there are signs that this land was made flat prior to the construction of the dolmens. This is something you will not be able to see at Gochang or Ganghwado. Close to the Gwancheong Bawi Dolmen Site is the Gwancheong Rock Quarry. Here you can see plenty of evidence of where the stone was removed from the rock face.
From Jonggak Station, take Subway Line 1 in the direction of Incheon & Sinchang → Get off at the Yongsan Station (10min / 1,150 won) → At Yongsan Station, take the Mugunghwa Train for Neungju (Gyeongjeonseon) → Get off at Neungju Station (5hrs / 24,400 won) → Take Bus 318-1 from the Neungju bus stop → Get off at the Mosan bus stop (20min / 1,000 won) → Go 547m to the Hwasun Dolmen SiteMore Info
Korea Tourism Organization Travel Helpline 1330
(domestic 1330, international +82-2-1330)
* Information above as of December 2012.