Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Obsidians from the Sinbuk archaeological site in Korea — Evidences for strait crossing and long-distance exchange of raw material in the Paleolithic Age

GiKil Lee, JongChan Kim


Geochemical analysis of obsidian artifacts from the Sinbuk Paleolithic site in southwestern Korea has been performed by laser ablation ICP-MS (LA-ICP-MS). As a result of this study, 23 samples among total 28 obsidians excavated from the site have been identified as belonging to at least four chemical groups, namely, two groups originating from the Paektusan volcano and two groups originating from sources on Kyushu, Japan. The results suggest seafaring between Korea and Japan during the Paleolithic. Other archaeological implications of these findings are discussed.


The present multi-element geochemical study applied to the Sinbuk obsidians has been fruitful to advance provenance of the Sinbuk obsidians in greater details than the previous PIXE study. Now only two obsidians among the total of 23 obsidians remain unidentified.

In this study, we have employed a new data handling method in order to cope with the uncertain absolute determination of element concentrations in LA-ICP-MS measurement. This method which is in essence ‘fingerprinting only by the shape of mass spectra’ has been successfully demonstrated to be useful for classifying samples into different source groups even in absence of high quality data of absolute magnitude of element concentrations.

As many as four different sources have been identified for the 23 Sinbuk obsidians. They include two sources from Kyushu, Japan and two sources from Paektusan on the North Korea/China border. The obsidian artifacts from Japan clearly show the direct evidence of long distance exchange network between Korea and Japan during Upper Paleolithic, regardless of whether it is due to sea-faring across narrow strait or it is due to land-bridge formation at the LGM (Park, 1992).


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