Korea – Mysterious Beginnings

Episode 23: Korea – Mysterious Beginnings

Foundations of Eastern CIvilization

Dr Craig Benjamin (2013)

Film Review

In this lecture, Benjamin explores the effect of Korea’s geography and climate on its early development.

He credits Korea’s failure to be subsumed by its neighbor China to its rugged mountainous landscape. Seventy percent of Korea is covered in steep mountains, making navigation between the East and West coast extremely difficult. Moreover unlike the majority of modern nations, it remains heavily forested.

Located in the same temperate latitude as Denver, it’s the same size as Britain and Utah. Surrounded on three sides by water, it shares a border with both China and Russia. Although separated from Japan by the sea of Japan, the archipelago is visible from the east coast of Korea.

Blessed with rich mineral resources (mainly gold, copper, tin and iron), Korea was the world’s largest gold producer during the first half of the 20th century.

It has only one (extinct) volcano Baikdu, also it’s highest mountain, with a volcanic lake associated with early Korean deities.

Owing to the steep drop of its mountains along its coasts, it has no significant bays or harbors suitable to facilitate urban development. Its three main river systems (which gave rise to its major cities) are Taedong in the North (location of North Korea’s capitol Pyongyang) and the Han (location of South Korea’s capitol Seoul) and Kum in the South.

As in China, there is archeological evidence that pre-human hominids (Homo erectus) using hand axes, flake tools and fire also migrated from Africa to Korea 500,000 to 600,000 years ago. Owing to the wide land bridge connecting China, Korea and Japan before the last Ice Age ended (and sea levels rose), similar remains and tools are found in Japan.

Paleolithic* remains show early humans lived in extended families in small caves or small dwellings in simple villages. They foraged, fished and hunted deer, wild board and macaques.

The Neolithic period saw waves saw waves of migrants who crossed the Yellow Sea land bridge. They lived in small dwellings heated by a central hearth, used distinctive pots used to store food from domesticated plants and supplemented their diet by hunting (of dogs, cats, water buffalo, boor, deer, dolphins and whales).

Neolithic** Koreans were ritually buried with jewelry and masks suggesting they believed in an afterlife.

*The Paleolithic, aka the Old Stone Age, is a period in prehistory distinguished by the original development of stone tools. It extends from the earliest known use of stone tools by hominids 3.3 million years ago to around 10,000 BC.

**The Neolithic, aka the New Stone Age, refers to a period characterized by agriculture and fixed human settlement between 10,000 BC and around 3,300 BC when bronze tools were developed.

Film can be viewed free on Kanopy.


100,000 BC: Early Human Migration and Settlement in China

Episode 3 Early China and the Mysterious Xia

Foundations of Chinese Civilization

Dr Craig Benjamin (2013)

Film Review

Benjamin begins this lecture by discussing the remains of 40 Homo erectus skeletons discovered in China over the last century. This is the first evidence that pre-human hominids migrated from Africa to Asia long before the first human beings emerged. Archeological evidence suggests they had discovered fire.

The oldest human remains from China date from 100,000 BC. Like early human migrants elsewhere, these were hunter gatherers living in small groups and using infanticide and senicide to limit group size. Like hunter gatherers elsewhere, they worshiped spirits associated with nature and their ancestors.

Over time, however, like early humans elsewhere, they began growing food and living in larger communities.

China’s Neolithic (late Stone Age) Era dates from roughly 8,000 – 3,000 BC and there is evidence of agriculture along it’s major rivers by 7,000 BC. The main crop along the northern Yellow River was millet and along the southern Yangtze River was rice. There is also evidence of domestication of chickens, pigs, silkworms and horses (originally domesticated on the Eurasian Steppes – see https://archive.org/details/horsewheelandlanguage).

By 4,000 BC, there’s evidence of different neolithic cultures trading with one another. By 3,000 BC, there’s evidence they’re waging war against war with one another.

In 2100 BC, the first (Xia) hereditary dynasty formed after “great King Yu” bequeathed his throne to his son Xi. The territory ruled by the Xia Dynasty consisted mainly of farmland with a number of substantial villages and a few urban centers. Xia artisans mastered the use of bronze and jade carving, as well as creating a calendar noting lunar and solar movement. Owing to their ability to communicate with the spirit world, Xia kings also served as shamans.

Film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy.


How Human Beings Evolved from Our Closest Ancestors

Were Neanderthals really artists? | Art and design | The ...

The Guardian: Neanderthal Cave Art Gibraltar

Episode 2: The Rise of Humanity

The Big History of Civilizations

Craig G Benjamin (2016)

Film Review

This presentation traces the gradual differentiation of human beings from their closest ancestors. Humans belong to the subfamily of Homininae, which includes gorillas, chimpanzees and other bipedal apes. Human beings and chimps share 98.4% of the same genes. Benjamin asserts they’re both descended from the same ancestor 7 million years ago.

According to fossil evidence, primates began walking upright 6.5 million years ago. Some anthropologists attribute this adaptation to a cooling climate that shrank the size of African forests. Standing on two legs allowed early Homininae to see over long savanna grasses and carry food more easily.

A second cooling period 2.5 million years ago possibly favored the rise (via natural selection) of the genus Homo. Most Homo species seem to have used fire for warmth and to scare off predators. Homo habilis, Homo erectus and Homo Neanderthalis are the best known immediate precursors to Homo sapiens.

Homo erectus was the first known species of the genus Homo to stand fully erect (around 1.8 million years ago). They were also the first species to develop semicircular ear canals allowing for running, jumping and dancing.

Early Homo species began migrating out of Africa (mainly to Asia and southern Europe) about 1.7 million years ago, as food shortages led them to follow migrating animals.

The first evidence of symbolic language appeared around 500,000 BC. There are European Neanderthal cave paintings from 200,000 BC suggesting some use of language, collective learning and primitive tools. When members of the species Homo sapiens began migrating out of Africa after 100,000 BP, Neanderthals weren’t able to compete with their superior language, tools and collective planning skills. Archeological evidence suggests their species died out about 40,000 BC.

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy.