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The origin of the Korean people: Who are the Koreans?
Lee Wha Rang

A relic from Go-Chosun era uncovered near Pyongyang. This is believed to be a village of a tribe that lived along the Daedong River.

No one knows exactly where the Koreans came from or who they are. The humans as we know today, homo sapiens sapiens, came into being some two and half million years ago. Although the oldest known writings - written language - date back only 5,000 years at best, we can 'read' our history by studying fossils, our DNA, geological data, cosmological data, our language, and so on, and from these records, we can determine the origin, or rather the prehistoric history, of the Korean race, the baik-yi-min-jok - the 'White-clad People'.

It is commonly accepted that our Universe began some 15 billion years ago, that our Sun was formed about 5 billion years ago, that our Earth was formed about 4 billion years ago, and that the first life form - bacteria - appeared about 3.8 billion years ago. Earth was encased in mile-thick ice until about 500 million years ago when life forms began to multiply and flourish with milder climates. Since then, Earth's life forms have been virtually wiped out several times by cosmological events such as shockwaves from supernova explosions and collisions with space debris, and Sun's journey through the cosmos that brought Earth to life-threatening environments.

For example, about 65 million years ago, a large asteroid. about 10 km in diameter, hit Earth and created the Chicxulub crater with an impact of 100 million megatons of TNT. The impact created gigantic tsunamis, earthquakes, and dark clouds over the globe that persisted several years. This cosmological event brought about a global ice age and the demise of the dinosaurs (Mesozoic-Cenozoic Extinction). About 10 million years ago, Earth began to cool down and global glaciations started locking up more and more water in ice, lowering the sea level by several hundred feet.

About 3 million years ago, a major Ice Age began when the sea level dropped enough to expose the Isthmus of Panama, which blocked the Atlantic-Pacific connection, "creating a conveyor belt of cold salty water that sinks near the Arctic 0cean and goes back south, instead of carrying heat to the Arctic Ocean.

Australopithecus lived in transitional woodlands near trees, because with no stone weapons and no fire, trees were the only way Australopithecus could avoid the lions. The ice age killed the trees, and with the trees gone, the lions killed Australopithecus. Homo, smart enough to defend itself with fire and stone, could live on the ground. Homo's intelligence required a large brain, which meant difficult childbirth and a long dangerous childhood. Homo's survival required couples to mate for life to care for their few children over a long childhood." (Tony Smith).

Photo: The 50,000 year-old Cheju footprints are 8.4 by 10 inch in size (note the hammer in the photo for comparison) and show sharp details of the heels, medial arches and balls. In addition to the human footprints, the sedimentary fossil rocks contain footprints of elephants, horses, deer. and birds as well as remains of fish, mollusks and sea plants. Photo courtesy of OhMyNews.

This Ice Age 'forced' evolution of humanoids into homo erectus. This evolutionary process took millions of years and the early humans came into being about two and half million years ago in Africa. Homo erectus prospered in Africa, Europe and Asia until about 340,000 years ago when a cosmological event, the Geminga supernova, triggered another major ice age that lasted about 10,000 years. During this Ice Age, Neanderthals appeared and began to replace homo erectus.

The early humans inhabited the Korean peninsula: recently, 300,000-year old human fossils were discovered in a lava bed in the Whang-hae Province of Korea. A DNA test of the fossils showed the bones were of a woman, a teenager, and a toddler. It is probable that they were caught in a volcanic eruption. It is not clear if these victims were homo erectus or Neanderthals.

The next Ice Age began about 160,000 years ago and lasted about 30,000 years. Europe was under glaciation. unfit for human habitation at the time and the migration of the humans went from Africa to Asia through the Near East. The glaciations shrank and expanded numerous times over the millennia. In the current epoch, the glaciation expanded during 45,000-75,000 years ago, and during this period, the sea level dropped sharply, so much so that Asia and America got connected, allowing animals and humans to migrate from Asia to America.

About 70,000 years ago, the Toba volcano in Sumatra blew up and ushered in the current Ice Age, the Wurm Glaciation. By about 35,000 years ago, much of Europe became encased in ice and a new breed of humans - homo sapiens sapiens evolved to survive in the harsh environment. This new breed was more intelligent and used tools to compensate for their modest physique. They replaced their distant kin Neanderthals in Africa, the Near East and Northern Asia. The migration occurred in other directions as well: the Asian tribes migrated into Europe, Middle East, and Australia. As the glaciations receded, the sea level rose and land bridges disappeared cutting off migration routes until the next expansion of glaciations, which occurred during 14,000-25,000 years ago.

By about 20,000 ago, the harsh climate had decimated the homos and only small tribes survived in warm pockets along Lake Baikal and other bodies of water in Siberia, India, China, Africa and the Near East. In addition, some tribes survived in the Altai mountains. DNA tests show that today's humans descended from about 100 distinct ancestors, which support the Wurm near-extinction theory described above.

Map: Korea about 20,000 years ago. The area in red represents land exposed by lower sea levels due to glaciations. The green, blue, and yellow areas show areas hospitable to the humans during this era. The Sea of Corea (the East Sea) was an inland lake and Korea was land-connected to Japan, Formosa, Indochina, and India. Courtesy: The Times Atlas of World History (Times Books (4th ed) 1993).

As the glaciations receded in Europe, the sea level rose gradually and by 15,000 year ago, the East Asia Lowlands became submerged and their inhabitants migrated to India, Indochina, China, Japan, and Korea. It is believed that the Korean race is a mix of the Altaic, the Lake Baikal, and the East Asia Lowlands (the Jomon people - the ancestors of today's Ainus of Japan) tribes.

The first Korean nation, Hwan-gook (桓國), was established some 10,000 years ago and lasted 3,301 years. According to an archive recently discovered (桓檀古記), this nation was made of 12 tribes in the region of Lake Baikal in Siberia. About 5500 years ago, the climate in Siberia began to cool down and people from this nation began to move out in several directions. One group, called the Sumerians by the Westerners, migrated to Mesopotamia and established the Ur, Urk, Lagash, Umma and other city states. The Sumerians had dark hair and share a common linguistic origin with the Koreans. Another group crossed the Beringia and moved into America, while a third group moved into Manchuria and the Korean peninsula.

Hwan-gook was succeeded by Bai-dal (배달국 倍達國) which occupied much of Manchuria and expanded into China. At its peak, Bai-dal occupied Habook, Hanam, Shantung, Gangso, Ahnwhi, and Julgang provinces of China. Its culture flourished: creation of 'Chinese' characters, codification of the Oriental medicine, advances in farming methods, and other innovations commonly attributed to the Chinese. The Bai-dal kingdom lasted 1565 years under 18 kings.

A relic from Go-Chosun era uncovered near Pyongyang. This is believed to be a village of a tribe that lived along the Daedong River.

Go-Chusun followed Bai-dal and lasted 2096 years. It was the most powerful nation in Asia of its era but it is rarely mentioned in history books. Soviet-era academicians have established with certainty the veracity of Go-Chosun, this nation did in fact exist. Go-Chosun was followed by North Buyo (북부여) and Koguryo. With the fall of Koguryo, the Korean people lost much of its territory to China and Russia, and became a 'weak minority' race (yak-so-min-jok).

This article was featured on Korea WebWeekly. The author's views do not necessarily represent those at AFAR.

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