I have written about the "lost history of Korea" before but I wanted to give an update as the original article is now eight years old and I've made a lot of mapping progress since then.
With the artificial division of Korea in 1945, both sides will have developed distinct modern archeological histories as the two sides have grown more and more distinct. But this division also left thousands of years' worth of joint Korean history within the confines of North Korea. As a result, numerous sites are largely unknown to the English-speaking world and much of the archeological research that was done prior to the division was done while Korea was under Japanese occupation, making it outdated and its results subject to the Imperial ideology of the day. Likewise, any research done in North Korea subsequently will be tainted by the current government's ideological narratives; and there are serious questions about the quality and reliability of North Korean archaeology as a practice.
Most North Korea watchers are aware of some of the major archeological sites in the country. The ancient capital of Kaesong and the Royal Tomb Complex of the Koguryo Dynasty - both UNSECO World Heritage Sites. There's also religious relics around Mt. Myohyang, pieces and pavilions of the wall that once encircled Pyongyang, and the alleged tomb of Tangun, the legendary founder of Korea.
North Korea has a list of 193 sites designated as National Treasures, with these including major tombs, fortresses, temples, pagodas, and other tangible sites. There is also a list of 1,800 other culturally important items such as steles and sites that no longer exist. Unfortunately, most of these lack exact locations and are also small objects (steles and stone pagodas may not be visible at all by satellite), and so most of these locations have gone unmapped by AccessDPRK but I have endeavored to locate the ones possible.
Through the work for AccessDPRK, I've noted well over 400 historic sites. Additionally, I have located over 900 large burial mounds. Most of the burial mounds will date to before 1910 and could hold troves of valuable cultural, religious, and political history going back generations.
While many of these locations will likely be known to Korean historians and archeologists, most will not be known to English speakers and there's very little information about them in English.
I've been able to map enough sites, that the paths of major walls become very visible and the map is sprinkled with smaller finds as well.
I have reviewed nearby areas in China and Russia to try to find additional sites, but these three complexes are the only ones I have discovered. No others seem to exist in North Korea either.
They share certain similarities with ancient hunting or livestock control systems in other parts of the world, but the precise nature of the paddocks also makes me think they could be 19-20th century creations.
I haven't been able to find any information at all about these sites and would love the input of a Korean archeologist or historian. Are these even known about?
Beyond fortified sites and old animal pens, North Korea is filled with burial mounds and religious locations.
The future of archeology in North Korea depends entirely on the government cooperating with outside organizations and academic communities to bring the richness of this history to the world's eyes. And, whenever the Kim regime does fall away, archeology will have decades of additional material to look at.
Researchers will need to look at mass graves to determine the extent of famines and public executions. They will need to go to disappeared prisons to give voice to the thousands of lives that were destroyed in them and to verify the crimes committed by the government. They will also have the mass human activity of monument and palace building (and removal) as a means to track the path of propaganda and its impact on people's lives and the economy.
Until then, most of us in the outside world will only have satellite images to peer into thousands of years' worth of history.
In the spirit of openness and furthering our collective knowledge, the historic sites are available in the Free Version of the 2021 AccessDPRK Map (KMZ file). If any knowledgeable person has verifiable information about the sites, please get in touch with me.
I would like to thank my current Patreon supporters: Amanda O., GreatPoppo, Joel Parish, John Pike, Kbechs87, Russ Johnson, Ryan Little, and ZS.