• Koguryo and Balhae
  • Susahn-ri Tomb
Susahn-ri Tomb
TitleSusahn-ri Tomb

Susahn-ri Tomb is located in Susahn-ri (village), Kangso District in South Pyeongan Province. The tomb's name was derived from the village. The tumulus (mound of earth raised over a grave) is situated at the top of a low hill south of Gojeong Mountain approximately 2.5 miles (4 km) southwest of Susahn-ri. The excavation was conducted by North Korea in 1971 and attracted the attention of numerous academics upon the tomb’s discovery.
The tomb configuration is rather simple, comprised only of an entrance passage and a main chamber containing the sarcophagus. This type of configuration was prevalent during the mid-Koguryo era. The main chamber is square with each side measuring 10.5 ft. (3.2 m) in length. The ceiling was constructed by utilizing a stepping architectural technique called caisson ceiling or spider web ceiling. Three layers of supporting stones were installed in parallel to protrude over the wall, and two additional layers of triangular supporting stones and a cap complete the ceiling. This method of ceiling construction is referred to as an intersecting triangular ceiling or caisson ceiling. The ceiling is 13.5 ft. (4.1 m) in height.
The tomb features real-world scenes from the life of the entombed including a procession, various living areas, and ceremonies. Notably, the four corners and ceiling of the main chamber feature depictions of columns, braces, and supports that mimic the structure of an actual wooden house.
Both walls of the entrance passage feature depictions of figures holding swords and spears. All four walls and the ceiling of the main chamber are lavishly decorated with murals. Depictions of braces, supports, and lotus-decorated columns can be seen in the corners of the main chamber to convey the sense of being inside a wooden building.
The northern wall of the main chamber features a portrait of the deceased as well as scenes of everyday life. Due to significant deterioration in the center of the mural, only portions of the noble couple's portrait, building roof, and surrounding maids and valets are now visible. Notably, the portrait of the deceased contains a house with a Giwa roof (traditional Korean roof tiles) that is quite unlike any other early Koguryo-era mural tombs such as Anak Tomb No. 3 or Tokhung-ri Tomb that features curtained pavilions. This type of portrait of the deceased is similar to those found in Twin Column Tombs of the same era.
The right side of the mural is divided into top and bottom sections. Both sections feature depictions of maids wearing creased skirts as seen in Tokhung-ri Tomb. This composition is mirrored on the left side but with valets instead of maids. Depictions of Buddhist lotus buds can be seen dispersed throughout the mural to portray an auspicious atmosphere.
The whitewashed eastern wall of the main chamber is badly exfoliated, and the contents of the severely-deteriorated mural are difficult to discern. A horizontal checkered line can be seen on the left side of the wall that divides the mural into top and bottom sections. A kneeling figure located just above the line appears to be greeting two important people to his right.
A ceremonial band comprised of drummers and a horn flutist is depicted below the line. These figures are facing the northern wall featuring the nobleman's portrait of the deceased. The band is estimated to be either returning from a procession or arriving to visit the nobleman. Two women who appear to be maids can be seen on the right side of the mural in line with the band. Although the images are faint, they are just clear enough to identify their social status.
The western wall of the main chamber features a procession scene of the noble couple's outing that is mostly intact. This mural is also divided into top and bottom sections with a checkered line. Unlike the eastern wall, however, the procession is facing south toward the tomb entrance. The procession in the top section begins with acrobatic performers on the left side of the mural. The lower section features figures carrying a sunshade, a horse, and various other figures.
Of all figures depicted in the procession on the western wall, the noblewoman is clearly the most prominent. The lady features proper proportions and a voluptuous face with vivid red lipstick in a display of Koguryo-era artistry that exudes elegance.
The southern wall of the main chamber is connected to the entrance passage. Figures holding sunshades are depicted on either side of the threshold. The mural on the ceiling has deteriorated to a point that not much can be discerned. The most notable aspects are the decorative elements on the walls of the main chamber near the ceiling. The blooming lotuses and auspicious birds depicted near the ceiling are considered to be allusions to the Buddhist Land of Bliss.
The level of artistry in Susahn-ri Tomb is regarded to be more mature than in Anak Tomb No. 3 or Tokhung-ri Tomb. Each scene in the murals features clean, thin black outlines with no traces of red base sketches and concise and consistent rendering techniques to convey a more refined atmosphere. The powerful yet delicate lines and vivid colors seen in depictions of women in the murals are widely regarded to be the pinnacle of artistry in Koguryo-era tomb murals. In addition, the lotus decorations depicted throughout the tomb are considered to exemplify the Buddhist view of the spiritual world prevalent in Koguryo at the time of completion.
The contents, compositions, and character representations seen in the murals of Susahn-ri Tomb not only reflect the characteristics of murals from previous generations, but their influence extend to the Takamatsuzuka Tomb of Japan as valuable evidence of the cultural exchange between Korea and Japan.