Gaya Tumuli Recommended for UNESCO World Heritage List

Although Gaya was eventually absorbed by the neighboring kingdom of Silla, its cultural legacy and unique political structure continue to fascinate historians and archaeologists.

Maru Kim
Maru Kim

In a significant development for Korea’s cultural heritage, the Gaya Tumuli, a collection of seven tomb clusters from the ancient Gaya confederacy, has been recommended for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The announcement came from the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) on Thursday, following a meeting of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), an advisory organization for cultural heritage evaluations under UNESCO.

A final decision on the Gaya Tumuli’s inclusion will be made by the World Heritage Committee during their 45th session in Saudi Arabia this September, based on ICOMOS’ recommendation.

The Gaya confederacy, also known as the Kaya or Kara confederacy, emerged as a political entity in the Korean Peninsula around the 1st century CE. Although smaller and less centralized compared to its neighbors, Gaya managed to maintain its distinct identity and prospered until the 6th century CE. The confederacy was situated in the Nakdong River basin, which provided fertile land and abundant resources, making it an attractive region for settlement and development.

Gaya’s economy was largely based on agriculture, iron production, and trade, which allowed it to establish connections with neighboring kingdoms, such as Baekje, Silla, and even Japan. The Gaya confederacy is known for its exquisite craftsmanship, particularly in the production of iron weapons, tools, and ornamental items. Gaya’s skilled ironworkers contributed to the advancement of agricultural and military technology in the region, enhancing the quality of life and the power of the confederacy.

Although Gaya was eventually absorbed by the neighboring kingdom of Silla, its cultural legacy and unique political structure continue to fascinate historians and archaeologists. The Gaya Tumuli, a prominent remnant of the confederacy, serves as an invaluable window into the lives, customs, and achievements of this ancient civilization. The potential inscription of the Gaya Tumuli on the UNESCO World Heritage list would not only help preserve this important historical site but also raise global awareness and appreciation of Korea’s rich and diverse cultural heritage.

The Gaya confederacy thrived between the first and sixth centuries in the southern and central regions of the Korean Peninsula. Comprising six or seven small kingdoms, Gaya was characterized by its loosely connected political structure. The Gaya Tumuli includes seven clusters of tombs, showcasing the architectural style, burial accessories, and artifacts from the fourth and fifth centuries. These elements highlight Gaya’s trade network and expertise in handcrafted manufacturing.

Each of the seven cemeteries is situated in a highly visible, hilly area, reflecting the political center of their respective polities. The sites feature dense concentrations of burials, constructed over extended periods.

According to cultural heritage authorities, ICOMOS recognized the outstanding universal value of the Gaya Tumuli as crucial evidence of the ancient civilization’s distinct confederated political system. The state-run heritage site nomination committee emphasized the significance of the Gaya Tumuli, stating that it bears exceptional testimony to the unique ancient East Asian civilization of Gaya, which coexisted alongside its more centralized neighbors.

Should the Gaya Tumuli be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, Korea will boast a total of 16 sites recognized as World Heritage Sites.

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