Dragons? Cashews? Crescent moons? What are those comma-shaped ornaments seen in the exhibition Silla: Korea's Golden Kingdom?
The shapes are thought to represent embryonic forms and, therefore, to symbolize life. They may also allude to the moon. Unfortunately there is no written record that we can look to for definitive answers. Some Korean scholars have suggested that these figures are abstract dragons. Comma-shaped objects carved from stones and animal teeth existed on the Korean peninsula long before the Silla kingdom, so there was precedent for this particular form. In ancient nomadic-pastoralist cultures in Northern and Central Asia, too, animal claws and teeth or tusks were used as ornaments and possibly as shamanic ritual items. But in the fourth through sixth centuries, the peoples of the Korean peninsula and the Japanese archipelago appear to have been the only ones who made and used curved jade ornaments: known as gobeunok or gogok in Korean and magatama in Japanese.
In the Silla kingdom, comma-shaped ornaments can be found on gold crowns, belts, necklaces, and earrings. They are usually made of jade but also range in material from crystal and various stones to gold. We invite you to come count the "commas" on view in the exhibition and let us know what you think they represent.