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"Thunder-Axes" and the Traditional View of Stone Tools in Korea

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image of Journal of East Asian Archaeology

Before the introduction of modern archaeology into Korea, prehistoric stone tools were commonly called "thunder-axes." In China, the "thunder-axe" was seen as a heavenly object with medicinal properties from as early as the eighth century AD. This idea had become widespread by the Song Dynasty, when Confucian scholars proposed, instead, a philosophical explanation for their origin and regarded them as a product of nature. The oldest surviving Korean record of a "thunder-axe" dates from the fifteenth century,when the country's Choson dynasty rulers were eager to find such objects because of their supposed medical value. However, the philosophical explanation proposed in China by Song scholars gradually became accepted in Korea, and it survived into the nineteenth century as the Choson had adopted the teachings of Zhu Xi-style Neo-Confucianism as the country's official ideology.The long continuing acceptance of this interpretation of "thunder-axes" exemplifies the ever increasing dominance of Neo-Confucianism in Korea from the fourteenth until the early twentieth century.


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