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[Non-CKS] Cultural Diversity in Iron Age Korea — The Case of Mahan

[Non-CKS] Cultural Diversity in Iron Age Korea — The Case of Mahan

Image provided by Dr. Jack Davey.

Join the Choson History Society in welcoming Dr. Jack Davey for a presentation on Cultural Diversity in Iron Age Korea — The Case of Mahan.


Monday, June 21, 2021
3:00 PM - 4:30 PM (Pacific Time)

The southern Korean Iron Age (400 BC to 400 AD) encompasses the tumultuous transition from prehistory to history on the southern portion of the Korean peninsula. Chief among the many socio-cultural transformations that characterize this short period was the emergence of the historical kingdoms of Silla, Paekche, and the Kaya polities. While often characterized as a mere liminal or developmental phase of Korean history, recent archaeological research on Korean Iron Age polities have forced us to question many of the foundational assumptions of early East Asian history: the centrality of China in driving early East Asian interaction and social development, the timing and nature of early complex polities in northeast Asia, and the cultural cohesion of early China and Korea. Additionally, as the historiographical foundation for all subsequent kingdoms and dynasties on the peninsula, investigations of Iron Age cultures have implications for how we understand heritage and identity in Korean history more broadly.

This discussion uses the material traces of mortuary ritual to reconsider the boundaries and socio-political development of Mahan 馬韓; a cultural designation for a number of Iron Age polities or statelets on the southwestern Korean peninsula that first appeared in Chinese sources of the third century. Mahan is deeply entangled in a long historical tradition and contemporary Korean identities and its diverse mortuary record gives us the opportunity to explore dynamic flows of interaction that depart from the typical Sino-centric models of interaction and neo-evolutionary frameworks of social development. I offer here a preliminary review of the mortuary archaeology of southwestern Korea that questions the validity of Mahan as a classificatory term and advances a new methodology for reconciling a diverse mortuary record with historical narratives.

  To register for the event, click here.


Jack Davey (Ph.D. UCLA 2014) is an archaeologist and Early Koreanist specializing in the Iron Age of peripheral East Asia and the early states of Proto-Three Kingdoms Period Korea. He has been a part-time faculty member at George Washington University since 2019 where teaches courses on the history and archaeology of Early Korea as well as the geopolitical ramifications of historical disputes in East Asia. Since 2020, he has also been the Managing Editor of The Journal of Korean Studies where he seeks to foster interesting, inter-disciplinary scholarship that challenges how we understand Korea as an analytic category.

His current book project, Ritual Frontiers of Early East Asia, examines the relationship between ritual, the natural environment, and culture contact in Iron Age Korea. He argues that it was the simultaneous incorporation, evolution, and rejection of Han Chinese mortuary practices that facilitated the consolidation of the first historical kingdoms in Manchuria, Korea, and Japan. His findings recast the role of interaction in the state formation process, expose the granular mechanisms of exchange among early polities, and reconsider traditional historical narratives in Chinese sources.


The Choson History Society (CHS) is a public learned society fostering the study, research, and teaching of Korea’s past by connecting scholars working both outside and inside the professional academy.

It provides opportunities for scholars who are operating independently or are otherwise under-resourced to share research and generate in their work. The CHS will also connect these scholars with one another, fostering a network for shared interests. Through talks, workshops, public lectures and other events, CHS will develop and host public resources for the study, research, and teaching of Korea’s past. To join the society, please click here.


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