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Eruption of Mt. Baekdu and collapse of Balhae

Posted April. 03, 2015 07:12,   


The largest volcanic eruption in the past 2,000 years was that of Mt. Baekdu in the 10th century. A single eruption gushed out a layer of five centimeter-thick volcanic ash that can cover the entire Korean Peninsula. Volcanic ash from Mt. Baekdu soared to 25 kilometers from the ground at the time of eruption and volcanic mudflow covered villages and the area within a 100-kilometer radius must have turned into charcoal. The amount of magma was 50 times that of Mt. Vesuvius, which destroyed Pompeii in 79 A.D.

Balhae was destroyed by the attack of the Khitan from southern China in 926, but a different theory shows that the kingdom disappeared due to the eruption of Mt. Baekdu. The problem is nobody knows exactly when it erupted. “The eruption occurred 939 based on the analysis of carbonized wood found at Mt. Baekdu” said Hong Wan, the chief of Geochemical Analysis Center at the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources, at the "Korea-China Workshop for the Research of Magma in Mt. Baekdu" held in Jeju on March 23. A piece of the puzzle has been found.

Records show that the collapse of Balhae comes before the volcanic eruption of Mt. Baekdu, but they could be wrong. “Yosa,” a record on the fall of Balhae, was written from the winner’s perspective and was published 400 years after the collapse of the kingdom. In Japanese history, Balhae continued to send envoys to Japan in the 930s. Yelu Abaoji, the founder of the Khitan Empire, died on his way home after conquering Balhae. Why did he give up this land? What about Goryeosa (the history of the Goryeo Dynasty), which describes the crown prince of Balhae surrendered to Goryeo in 934?

They suggest the possibility that Balhae must have existed for a certain period of time after the capital city was taken by the Khitan. What is really curious is that why there is no single record about the volcanic eruption. There would have been no survivors who witnessed the eruption of Mt. Baekdu and the people of Balhae would have thought that it was just punishment from heaven, not a volcanic eruption. One thing for sure is that the eruption was huge enough to collapse a country and civilization. Korea and China will start a joint investigation in July as Mt. Baekdu has shown signs of impending volcanic eruption for the recent several years. We hope that the great disaster of volcanic ash that destroyed Balhae would not happen again.