The stones that are sculpted, assembled, and dressed to make stone art works constitute a material that is commonly found but does not change easily. Consequently, if you look around it is not hard to find objects made of stone. The people of the ancient Baekje Kingdom used this unchanging material to develop a richly diverse culture. The cultural heritage that they left behind reveals technology so sophisticated that it belies the passage of time.
To highlight that technology, the Buyeo National Museum has organized the special exhibition Stonework Technology of the Baekje People, in cooperation with the Sabi Archaeological Research Institute. At a time when so many things are easily produced and easily disappear, it is hoped the exhibition will convey the emotion inspired by Baekje cultural heritage that has been with us for so long in its original state and will remain in the future. The exhibition is organized under three themes: “Sculpting,” “Building with,” and “Handling.”
When the Baekje mason’s chisel cuts into rough stone, a sculpture is born. Inside Baekje territory, there were many places with deposits of high quality stone, including pagodite in Boryeong and Hwangdeung granite in Iksan. Highly skilled with their hands, Baekje artisans crafted stone into various household items. The first part of the exhibition gives information on the abundant stone distributed through the Baekje area, the tools used to dress the stones, and various sculpted stone items used in daily life. On display are household goods born at the hands of the Baekje people, such as mortars, volume measuring containers, and various molds, which are characterized by their roughness and simplicity. In particular, the spindle carved with a smiling face that was excavated from the ruins of Ssangbuk-ri in Buyeo makes viewers smile too as it hints at the humor of the Baekje people.Fig.1
This part of the exhibition deals with the stones used to make stone structures. The Baekje people carved the hard stones to make angled surfaces, or made grooves and ledges in stones and joined them together to make their buildings stronger. Stones that were fitted together as architectural materials were the result of precise design. Attesting to the technology of the Baekje people are the structures at Baekje World Heritage sites, such as Naseong City Wall and Neungsan-ri Royal Tombs in Buyeo. On display for the first time are stone water conduit pipes presumably excavated from Gwanbuk-ri and North Naseong City Wall in Buyeo, and a stone inscribed with the words for “white tiger,” excavated from Naseong City Wall in Buyeo.Fig.2,3
With sophisticated techniques, the Baekje people transformed cold, hard stone into art. Part three of the exhibition deals with stone Buddhist statues and pagodas. The space devoted to Buddhist sculpture features the Stone Seated Buddha of Gunsu-ri, Buyeo (Treasure)Fig.4, one of the stone sculptures of Baekje that remains almost in its original form, and the Stone Buddhas in the Four Directions from Hwajeon-ri, Yesan (Treasure), which is a large rock carved with Buddha icons on all four sides. In the case of the Stone Buddhas in the Four Directions, based on data from the remains of the statue on the actual site and the cracked Buddha head preserved at the Gongju National Museum, an attempt was made to restore the statue with 3D scanning and printingFig.5. Traces of sculptural and assembly techniques discovered in the process were also introduced.
In addition, the lighting from sunset to sundown was reproduced to highlight the deep modeling and beauty of the sculpture. In the space devoted to stone pagodas, the foundation stone excavated from the Temple Site in Gua-ri, Buyeo, normally displayed outdoors, was brought inside to show how the appearance and location of sarira reliquaries changed over timeFig.6.
Also on display is the lid of a stone sarira casket and offerings made when the sarira were enshrined. The stone pagoda at Mireuksa Temple Site in Iksan, which signaled the start of stone pagoda construction, was a groundbreaking structure in that the wooden pagoda style was replicated in stone. It represents the acme of Baekje masonry. The stone pagodas of Baekje and the related technology influenced neighbors Silla, Japan, and many years later, Goryeo as well, and major stone pagodas from those nations are introduced in photos and videos.