A Bronze Age Cemetery in Gochang

Gochang is a small rural county in Jeollabuk-do province that doesn’t get all too many visitors, despite holding one of South Korea’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, a large collection of Bronze Age dolmens.

Dolmen are prehistoric graves, found all over the world. The most famous dolmen is Stonehenge in the UK. However, the Korean peninsula has the world’s largest collection of dolmens, most of which are found in the southwest corner of the peninsula. The dolmen sites of Ganghwa, Gochang, and Hwasun were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2000.

Out of the three sites, Gochang has the most varied and largest dolmen group, in the thousands. One hillside has over one hundred. The dolmens are dated to around 1,000 BC, in the Bronze Age.

I do realize that heading all the way out to the countryside to look at some rocks isn’t every traveler’s cup of tea. Gochang’s dolmen’s aren’t as grand or imposing as Stonehenge or other dolmen in the UK (based on pictures I’ve seen of those). However, the main impressive element of Gochang is the sheer amount of dolmen’s at the site, it has the feeling of being in an ancient graveyard.

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Even if many of them just look like rocks.

Gochang is about an hour away from Gwangju’s U-square terminal, and buses depart pretty frequently. Once at the Gochang terminal, there are city buses that will go to the dolmen museum, which is in front of the dolmen park. Just ask the bus driver “goindol?” (the Korean word for dolmen) to find out if he will go there. The driver dropped me off in front of a big sign for the dolmen museum and park, where I walked 700 meters to the museum.

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A dolmen near the museum, that was moved to its present location.

The dolmen museum contains some information about the dolmens in Korea and other parts of the world, and displays Bronze Age artifacts found at the sites. There’s also some displays of Bronze Age villages.

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Dolmen shaped table and chairs outside the museum.

Gochang’s dolmen park also has a trolley that goes around the dolmen areas, but it was closed down for the winter when I was there. Kind of unfortunate for me since I could’ve used it…(my leg was still sore). The dolmens are across a bridge from the museum area, on the side of a hill.

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While climbing the hill, I wondered if there was a reason why the Bronze Age people decided to bury their dead and drag heavy rocks on a hill rather than flat land. Flat land would have been easier for all of us.

After leaving the museum, I walked back to the street where the bus driver dropped me off, but didn’t see where to get a return bus, so I grabbed a taxi back to Gochang terminal for 6,000 won.

While I didn’t go there myself, Gochang also has a fortress that could be taken in on the same day as the dolmen park. Additionally, if coming from Gwangju, Hwasun’s dolmen are also UNESCO listed and can be reached by a regular bus from Gwangju rather than an intercity bus. They are also a shorter distance away. (I debated between going to Gochang and Hwasun but decided on Gochang because it has a larger number of dolmen and the dolmen are dated to an earlier period).

The other UNESCO-inscribed site is Ganghwa, located on Ganghwa Island, technically a part of Incheon city but really a remote island. It has the biggest and most impressive dolmen in Korea and it’s the closest to Seoul. I didn’t go to this one because public transportation on Ganghwa is scarce and it’s still a pretty long way from Seoul (2.5 hours). Ganghwa has other places of interest besides the dolmen but it’s very difficult to get to them without a car, or a tour. (Seoul Hiking Group, a tour group geared toward expats living in Korea, does some trips to Ganghwa in spring).

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