Ancestral monumentalization: Considerations on the keyhole-shaped tumuli in Korea

  • Andrea De Benedittis University of Naples "L'Orientale"


This study examines the key-hole tumuli discovered in the Yŏngsan River basin, focusing on their significance within the historical context. Notably, this region garnered attention for its jar coffins and haniwa-like artifacts, previously undocumented in the Korean peninsula. Although key-hole tumuli, a burial tradition typical of Japan, are infrequently found in this area, so far fourteen have been unearthed. Typically located on plains or hills near coastal or river areas, their placement suggests a connection between the burying community and maritime trade routes.

While some scholars propose that these monuments were constructed for Wa immigrants unable to return to Kyūshū due to local unrest, I contend that they represent an effort by the Wa people or a closely associated community to establish a symbolic and ideological connection with the Chŏlla territory, thereby gaining control over its resources. After discussing various aspects of the burial customs in Korea and examining the theories proposed by Korean and Japanese researchers, this article aims to interpret the trend as a brief, but intentional, effort by a new group to establish their importance in the Yŏngsan River basin by constructing elaborate burial structures.


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Author Biography

Andrea De Benedittis, University of Naples "L'Orientale"

Andrea De Benedittis is Associate Professor of Korean Language and Literature at the Department of Asian, African, Mediterranean Studies, University of Naples “L’Orientale.” In his studies, he has dealt with various issues concerning the ancient history of Korea—the so called Three Kingdoms Period (57BC – 668 AD)—and in particular: the military command of Nangnang, the genesis of the book Parhaego, the analysis of the iconographies of the Koguryŏ wall paintings, features of the Hwarang of Silla.

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