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Burial Customs

bird shaped pottery

The Gaya people practiced numerous burial customs to honor and protect their dead. As the Gaya believed in life after death, they buried food for the deceased and were even known to bury people alive. As live burials are dealt with elsewhere on this Gaya website, this section will focus on burial customs for the dead.

According to Samguk-ji, the Gaya left the wings of large birds in tombs, implying that such wings would help departed souls fly comfortably and safely on their journeys to the hereafter. In addition to actual feathers, bird-shaped pieces of pottery unearthed in Gaya tombs should be viewed in this light. The Gaya also buried dogs and the heads or the teeth of horses, perhaps to provide guidance for the dead.

Various funerary customs were followed before, during and after burials. After the burial service, earthenware used in the service was either buried in the tomb or broken into pieces and buried separately near the tomb. The former practice perhaps symbolized the living's condolences, while the latter practice may have been intended as an affront to death itself. The burial of intact earthenware implies sorrow for and dedication to the dead, while the burial of shattered earthenware suggests severance from the dead.

Some Gayan burial customs appear rather mysterious. The inner tomb of Daesungdong Tomb in Gimhae, for example, is somewhat charred, having been burned intentionally after the burial of the corpse. Moreover, iron weapons in the tomb appear to have been purposely bent and warped. This latter custom is intriguing as it was also practiced in other regions far to the north.

Certain tombs were altered by opening one section of an old tomb and joining newer tombs to tombs occupied by members of previous generations. Some might interpret this as an act of destruction or negation directed against previous generations, but more likely the act symbolized the connection of the generations. In many Gayan tombs it is possible to observe the successions of generations by examining connections between tombs. In one mound, stone coffins and stone chambers were clustered together so as to symbolize special successions or kinship. All of these customs indicate a belief in an afterlife and veneration of the dead.