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  • Curtis Sutherland

The Writing on the Wall - Petroglyphs

What is it with those ancient graffiti artists? Why do people carve images into trees and rocks? What would you carve into a rock? Some of us carve our initials, or the initials of our lovers into trees that happen to be near us when the mood strikes. Street artists will create some amazing art on the walls of tunnels, buildings, or railroad cars. There is a primal need to record something for others to see and ponder. Paul Simon once sang, "the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls..." perhaps reminding us that those who came before us, those regarded as uneducated and without a voice might have something important to say.

Ancient peoples carved pictures or letters into rock walls thousands of years ago and can be found today in many places around the world, including South Korea. The Petroglyphs of Bangudae and Cheonjeon-ri in Daegok-ri, Ulju are sites that many foreigners may not be aware of. Korea's one and only petroglyph museum was opened in 2008 to introduce these petroglyphs to the public.


A close look at the petroglyphs will reveal pictures of sea animals, birds, fish, tigers, deer, fox, and the tools used to hunt, capture, kill and consume them. The carvings are so detailed that experts have been able to classify them by species. The first whale hunt that we know of is depicted here - now I'm sure that event was worth writing about! There are also pictures of humans. A man's face is clearly revealed in th e Cheonjeon-ri stone wall. There are also pictures of parades, sailing boats, horses, dragons, and inscriptions from the more recent Silla era (57BC - 935 AD). There are over 1,000 identifiable figures between these two sites that span about 3 meters high and 10 meters long each. The Cheonjeon-Ri Petroglyphs were the first discovered on December 25, 1970 - what a Christmas gift!


So, what is written on these walls? Recordings of a people long since departed give us a glimpse of their world. The ancient people recorded the animals, their tools, and their exploits. I wonder who carved the face into the rock and whose face it was. Many geometric motifs are carved into the rock leading experts to believe that they had to do with symbolic representations of life, thoughts, and religion. The later generations from the Silla Dynasty recorded that the King and Queen had visited the site.


I've always been a fan of "wise sayings." Looking at these two sites, and reflecting back upon those images, I suppose I would say that the writing on the wall is all about life. We work hard to sustain ourselves and those we care about. We look at ourselves and ponder our existence, sharing with others in our limited way. We wonder about past and future generations and note those who are prominent among us. We try to preserve ourselves on something that will outlast us so that we won't be forgotten, be it a journal, a photograph, an achievement, or a child. Yesterday it was a rock wall. Tomorrow it might be a super computer encased in a body. Even though we desire some measure of immortality, the carvings on the wall clearly reveal that although the images remain, humans are destined to leave remnants of their lives for others to ponder.


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