Retracing the Ancient Korean Sky and Its Myths

The Celestial Utopia Depicted in Koguryo Tomb Paintings


In his book Retracing the Ancient Korean Sky and Its Myths: The Celestial Utopia Depicted in Koguryo Tomb Paintings, author Il-gwon Kim builds on his expertise in Eastern classics and religions.  He employs his initial training as a hard scientist to unmask the cosmology and associated myths of ancient Korea as captured by the tomb murals of the Koguryŏ kingdom. This volume is the digest of decades of his pioneering work in Korean archeoastronomy and publications on the subject. The author has taken great care to make the content understandable to the general readership, advocating the inclusion of additional material that could be of interest for the more curious reader, many of which are original (technical) illustrations showing the Western and Eastern constellations at a glance.


As its title faithfully reflects, what anchors this book is the proud culture of the ancient Korean kingdom Koguryŏ. The opening chapter sets the backdrop (Western and Eastern astronomy in general) that serves to underscore the uniqueness and innovative nature of Koguryŏ astronomy and related artifacts. That overview is followed by a thorough discussion of one iconic example—the tomb mural of Tŏkhŭng-ri (408 A.D.)—that showcases Koguryŏ cosmology and mythology in all their richness and glory. The next chapter takes the readers on a journey through other murals of the period, and provides a “big picture” view of the Koguryŏ cosmological system. The book concludes with an epilogue describing how the Koguryŏ model survived (or only barely managed to do so) in subsequent eras, followed by very generous appendices that serve as helpful summaries as well as supplements in the form of charts and illustrations put together by the author.


PART 1. Sky Murals and Constellations of the Occident and the Orient
Chapter I – Occidental Astronomy and Oriental Astronomy
Chapter II – Koguryŏ Tomb Murals and Astronomy

PART 2. The Koguryŏ Sky and Constellations
Chapter I – The Night Sky as Seen from the Village of Tŏkhung-ri 1,600 Years Ago
Chapter II – The Cosmograph on the Northern Sky
Chapter III – The Cosmograph on the Southern Sky
Chapter IV – The Cosmograph on the Eastern Sky
Chapter V – The Cosmograph on the Western Sky

PART 3. A Journey through Star Murals
Chapter I – Birth and Evolution of Koguryŏ Star Murals
Chapter II – Stage 1: Establishment of the Four-Directional Constellation Model
Chapter III – Stage 2: Integration of the Chinese 28-xiu Model
Chapter IV – Stage 3: The Osukto and Expansion of Koguryŏ Cosmology

PART 4. The Legacy of Koguryŏ Astronomy in Koryŏ Murals
Chapter I – Revival of the Koguryŏ Sky in Koryŏ
Chapter II – At Crossroads in the Quest for a Forgotten Sky

List of Figures



Il-gwon Kim

Il-gwon Kim, author of Retracing the Ancient Korean Sky and Its Myths, boasts a somewhat unusual but well-rounded résumé: after studying biology at Seoul National University for his bachelor’s degree, he opted for a graduate career in religious studies at the same institution. It was during his years as a graduate student that a number of experiences conspired to spark his interest in astronomy, including his visit to the harbor city of Pohang in 1994, where he saw a rock engraved with the constellation Cassiopeia, and some of the courses he took in related disciplines. Kim has ushered in an important phase in Korean archeoastronomy through his multidisciplinary approach and publications that integrate astronomy, archaeology, history, and folklore. He is still pursuing his passion for the subject as professor of folk studies at the Academy of Korean Studies, and has been sharing his findings with the general public through guest lectures at museums and appearances on broadcast programs.

248 pp.
LC# 2016051111
Softcover 25 x 25 cm
ISBN-13: 9781565914834
ISBN-10: 156591483X

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