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[Opinion] Corrupt Excavation Research

Posted March. 05, 2007 07:05,   


Korea can be called an excavation republic. Since the current government launched a national development project aimed at balanced regional development, there has been a rapid rise in the amount of excavation research for cultural assets. Laws protecting cultural assets require participants in any development projects to conduct excavation research before carrying on projects to prevent cultural assets that might be yet unearthed from being damaged in the process of the development. About 1,300 excavation research projects were conducted last year, 3.9 times more than 331 in 1999.

One would be surprised by the sheer size of land such researches cover. For example, the government is planning to make Yeongi, Gongju in South Chungcheong Province an administrative city. A whopping 22 million pyeong of land in Yeongi is covered by excavation research, which shows we are living in an era of the largest national land development. The archeological community has had busy days due to the seemingly endless requests for excavation. In the 1990s, only about 100 to 200 excavation research projects were conducted. Furthermore, most of the research was purely for academic purposes. However, excavation research today is encouraged by the government’s push for reckless numbers of development projects. As a result, the archeological community is facing an unexpectedly large number of requests.

The side effects of such excavation research are too significant to be ignored. Excavation teams can often be understaffed, which will likely lead to poor excavation work. Developers tend to rush excavation teams into wrapping up the research as soon as possible so that they can start their projects. Worse still, these days, some call the archeological community a hotbed of corruption because hundreds of billions of won flow into the community for these excavation research projects every year. The recent arrest of two archeologists on charges of embezzlement of 800 million won is one example. Another archeology professor is under investigation on charges of using research funds to purchase an apartment.

Most archeologists have purely academic passion for archeology. There is no question that scholars found to be corrupt deserve punishment, but it is sad that reckless development projects have turned some poor scholars into slaves to money overnight. The archeological community needs to make efforts to prevent and eradicate corruption caused by a growing number of excavation requests. Some suggest there should be a government agency in place dedicated to excavation research for development projects to ensure transparent research and implementation of projects. The government is also to blame, since it has pushed ahead with projects whose efficiency is not clear, and failed to set up systems to head off corruption.

Hong Chan-sik, Editorial Writer, chansik@donga.com