A crown ornament bearing a striking resemblance to a Koguryo crown has been unearthed at a royal tomb of the Balhae Kingdom, while an epitaph states that the buried individual is an empress. The find by Chinese government researchers directly contradicts claims by the country’s Northeast Project that the Balhae Kingdom was a province of the Tang Dynasty.
The Jilin Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and a team of researchers from the Office of the Yanbian Korean Nationality Autonomous Prefecture Commission for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments excavated 14 ancient tombs in the Helong region of Jilin Province dating back to the Balhae era. They published their findings in the latest issue of the journal “Chinese Archeology” published by the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
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The tomb appears to have been created between the late 8th and early 9th century, the heyday of the Balhae Kingdom, and is located in the same area where the tomb of Princess Jung-hyo of the third Balhae King Mun-wang was found in 1980. The Chinese discovered the tombs between 2004 and 2005 as they prepared to register the grounds as a UNESCO World Heritage site, but this is the first time the results have been revealed.
Prof. Song Ki-ho of Seoul National University, who recently checked the report, said Tuesday, “The fact that the title ’empress’ is used on the epitaph is evidence that Balhae was an empire rather than a regional province of China, while observations of the tomb’s pattern and relics clearly show Balhae was a successor to the Koguryo Kingdom.” Prof. Lee Han-sang of Daejeon University said, “The gold ornament depicting a three-stranded bird’s wing is a valuable piece of evidence demonstrating how Koguryo’s traditional crowns were passed on to Balhae.”The Northeast Project is by many here seen as an attempt by China to coopt early Korean history with claims that the Three Kingdoms were variously vassal states or autonomous Chinese provinces.