This ancient drum on display at the National Museum of Korea (NMK) is an example of Vietnam's outstanding bronze craftmanship/ Courtesy of National Museum of Korea
The National Museum of Korea (NMK) in Seoul has been at the forefront of introducing overseas relics that are unknown to Koreans.
The museum's latest exhibition, "Ancient Civilization in Vietnam, the Early Morning in Red River," which sheds light on Vietnamese Bronze Age culture, is a product of a joint effort between the flagship museums of the two countries.
"With the Vietnam National Museum of History for five years, from 2009 to 2013, the NMK has conducted an excavation project for pre-history relics of Vietnam," said Lee Sang-mi, museum curator. "Exhibitions focusing on the Vietnamese Bronze Age period have been rare. The items demonstrate excellent bronze manufacturing technology in Southeast Asia 2,500 years ago."
The exhibition shows Vietnamese Bronze Age culture, also called "Dong Son" culture (BC 500-0), which was developed along the 1,200-kilometer-long Red River in Northern Vietnam.
Vietnam's ancient bronze daggers
The museum said the outstanding bronze manufacturing workmanship of Dong Son culture, which was influenced by its neighbor China, has been the pride of the Vietnamese. Not only did it spread all over Vietnam, but it also had a deep influence on the other parts of the East Asia region and southern China.
Comprised of three parts — prehistoric times before Dong Son, Dong Son culture and Bronze Age culture in south-central Vietnam — some 380 bronze wares, including accessories and everyday articles, are on display through June, and among them 14 bronze drums are the highlight of the exhibition.
"The bronze drums are well bespeaking how great Vietnamese Bronze Age culture is, especially when comparing bronze wares made on the Korean Peninsula during the same period," Lee explained. "While we have only bronze swords, bronze mirrors and bronze instruments with end bells, used by chief priest when practicing worship, Vietnam has the large-sized drums, which are way harder to produce as it required much advanced manufacturing skills."
The bronze drums, measuring 50 to 70 centimeters in diameter, have great artistic value with their exquisitely engraved patterns on the surface. Through their high quality of patterns, including a person playing instruments, pounding rice with a mortar, plowing a field with cow and staying in a house with family, the drums fully demonstrate the lifestyle of the ancient Vietnamese as well.
Another example showing the greatness of the Vietnamese Bronze Age culture can be found in bronze daggers, with man- and woman-shaped grips. The human-shape grips allow us to speculate about that period — in a man-shaped grip, the man wears only a thigh band with large size bracelets and earrings; and in a woman-shaped grip, a woman puts on a tight-fitting dress with different kinds of necklaces.
The museum said this won't be an isolated event as it will keep conducting joint academic research with other overseas museums.
"As we are now showcasing leading bronze manufacturers of ancient Vietnam, we will continuously display overseas relics that are relatively lesser known to Koreans," the curator said.
The Exhibition runs through June 29. Admission is free. Located near exit 2 of Ichon Station, subway line 4 or Jungang line. For more information, call (02) 2077-9552 or visit www. museum.go.kr .
By Baek Byung-yeul