Historian uncovers Yongsan Garrison’s ancient roots
By By Kyung Lee
Posted : 2018-02-27 18:56
Kim Chun-soo first set foot on Yongsan Garrison in 2002 when he entered his mandatory military service. There, he encountered scattered pieces of trimmed stone blocks while on a routine tour of Camp Coiner in the northern corner of the garrison, and suspected their origins were significant.
Already versed in Korea’s history dating from the 1392-1910 Joseon Kingdom through the post-war and contemporary eras, Kim suspected the stones were once bigger and more geometrically refined ― more akin to Sajik Altar located northwest of downtown Seoul. A single media report in 2005 indeed confirmed his first suspicions the rocks also served as a ritual platform called Namdan, according to an 1861 Joseon map.
Recent photographs showing barbecue grills placed casually on either end of one stone, as well as a reasonable height of bricks laid upon another. Unearthing the exact dimensions of these structures will certainly be a daunting endeavor in the years to come. Civilians will be able to document cultural relics like this that lay unspoken within the garrison.
“People were under the initial impression the U.S. military erected them,” said Kim, now a research director at the Yongsan Cultural Center.
“The fact that the vast majority of people don’t know much about these stones presents a great challenge to our research efforts.”
To investigate both the historical and structural origins of Namdan and Yongsan Garrison in their unaltered state, Kim emphasizes his itching efforts to build an accurate timeline spanning back to Joseon, perhaps even earlier, through the Japanese and American military influences, to provide insight into the altar.
For his independent project he has collected early maps and photographs of the area, prior to its designation as Camp Coiner, that show dramatic changes to Yongsan’s landscape. In 1920 the 26th Artillery Regiment of the Japanese Imperial Army turned a marching ground into an army barracks. After the occupation ended, Quonset huts and other military structures popped up when elements of the U.S. 7th Infantry Division took over prior to the Korean War.
Until an official full-scale hand-to-soil examination of Namdan takes place, Kim says interacting with such records is key to understanding the gradual transformations the area underwent over the ages.
“I believe geographical features of the area can paint a more vivid image of the events that occurred well before Yongsan Garrison was given its name,” he said.
“We have to take into account the natural elements as well as people to explain how and what changes to Namdan and other potential artifacts in Yongsan Garrison unfolded.”
Kim currently heads a special exhibition on Yongsan history at the War Memorial of Korea until May 6. Visit yongsanlegacy.org to read more about the history of Seoul’s disappearing U.S. garrison or to contribute your own memories.