The Mystery of Stone Sculptures at Hanyang University Resolved
The origin and history of illiterate people installed in royal tombs (muninseok)
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Have you ever noticed the stone figures in both the Seoul and ERICA Campus of Hanyang University? You may have wondered what these stone figures are and where they came from. The long held mystery has finally been resolved thanks to clarification from the Hanyang University Museum and the Institute of Cultural Properties. Let’s look more into these illiterate people installed in royal tombs, also known as muninseok (문인석).
All illiterate people installed in royal tombs (muninseok) are registered relics of the Hanyang University Museum located on Seoul Campus or the Institute of Cultural Properties at ERICA Campus. The museum has been collecting artifacts ever since its establishment in 1979, and the Institute of Cultural Properties has collected relics, including all muninseok installed in royal tombs found in Hanyang campuses today, since the early 1990s.
Where did these stone figures placed in royal tombs come from? During the Joseon Dynasty, differences were evident in a royal mausoleum depending on whether one was of nobility and the level of wealth the nobleman possessed. However, all general noble households had a stone table of a tomb (sangseok) and a pair of illiterate people installed in royal tombs. Additional stone sculptures were set up to decorate the tomb based on their wealth and degree of official rank.
At Seoul Campus, illiterate people installed in royal tombs are dispersed around the museum building. The stone figures found on Seoul Campus are managed by the Hanyang University Museum.
Then, one might wonder, do the muninseoks installed in royal tombs at Hanyang University have owners? The answer is no, according to the Hanyang University Museum. Almost half of the relics at the school’s museum came from an antique shop in Jeonju that was facing bankruptcy in the early 1980s. Other muninseoks installed in royal tombs located around the Museum derive from the excavation of the school museum’s field study. The Hanyang University Museum's cultural festival excavation team was dispatched and discovered the muninseok remaining alone after the remains of ancestors were transferred elsewhere. Sometimes, the excavation team could only find one muninseok installed in royal tombs among the pair of two, or even worse, a state in which only the head part remained, and they had to add on cement on top of a body to complete the figure.
At ERICA Campus, muninseoks installed in royal tombs are arranged embracing the Practical English Education Hall and the Lion’s Hall.
These stone figures at ERICA Campus are the remnants that were left unclaimed by surviving family or friends during cemetery transfer to a different location. They were discovered during the excavation of Bucheon Gogang-dong's prehistoric remains back in 2004. The general management of these stone figures is undertaken by the ERICA Property Management Team, along with the surrounding landscape architecture. A direction board is anticipated to be established to inform visitors of the content of the artifacts and its means of acquisition.
This may clarify the origin of where these muninseoks installed in royal tombs came from, and that they were not in fact bought, as many people may have assumed. They were either purchased from the Jeonju general store or discovered by the excavation team who found them during their field study. No stone figures were discovered on campus, as Hanyang University used to be a grave hill. All muninseoks installed in royal tombs were collected after the year 1978.
As a response, in regards to the curiosity that many students have had of the stone figures located at Hanyang University, the staff of the Seoul Campus museum commented, “Please visit the Hanyang University Museum more. There is an exhibition taking place once or twice a year, and appreciating the artwork as well as reading captions will surely enhance humanity. Since knowledge about archeology and ancient history is not readily available for non-majors as a liberal arts subject, visiting the museum more often will help you learn more about these interesting fields."
Kim Hyun-soo firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Lee Hyeon-seon
Design by Oh Chae-won
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