Earring (One of a Pair)

Period: Three Kingdoms period, Gaya federation (42–562)

Date: end of 5th century

Culture: Korea

Medium: Gold

Dimensions: H. 4 1/8 in. (10.5 cm); W. 1 1/4 in. (3.2 cm); D. 1/2 in. (1.3 cm)

Classification: Jewelry

Credit Line: Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1943

Accession Number: 43.49.5


The pair of earrings illustrated here represents the more elaborate style of earring developed in the sixth century from the simple and elegant Kaya type of the late fourth to early fifth century. Its middle section contains a globular bead and three small leaves, similar to the earlier Kaya styles. The bottom section, attached to the middle section by two short chains, has twin pendants of a triangular seed shape, resembling beechnuts, a variety of which is known in Korea. The top section, which is complete, consists of a wide hollow ring and an interlocking middle ring.

In the Three Kingdoms period, royalty and the aristocracy acquired luxury goods not only for personal enjoyment but also as symbols of power and political authority. The large quantities of objects made of precious materials—including exquisite jewelry as well as weapons and horse trappings—that have been recovered from tombs of this period attest to the elegant taste and impressive wealth of the upper classes. The most sumptuous of these luxury objects are those excavated from fifth- and sixth-century royal tombs in modern Kyōngju, North Kyongsang Province, the site of the capital of Silla, then known as Kumsōng, or "city of gold." These tombs have revealed enormous quantities of pure gold objects—personal ornaments such as earrings, bracelets, and finger rings, along with intricately crafted crowns, caps, belts, and shoes, many of which are embellished with jade. These items were worn by both men and women, although it is not clear whether they were used by the living or made solely for the adornment of the deceased. The close similarities between earrings found in Japan and those from Kaya and Silla tombs suggest that such articles were imported from the southern Korean kingdoms.

Using, at least in part, domestic supplies of gold ore, Korean goldsmiths employed a variety of techniques, some of which originated with the Greek and Etruscan goldsmiths of southern Europe and western Asia. For example, the technique of granulation (forming and attaching grains of gold to a base to create a decorative relief pattern) is thought to have been transmitted to northern China in the first millennium B.C. and later to the Korean peninsula. In the earrings illustrated here, granulation was applied to the surface of the middle and bottom sections to create decorative patterns.