Duck-shaped Vessels

UnknownProto-Three Kingdoms Period, 3rd century

National Museum of Korea

National Museum of Korea
Seoul, South Korea

According to Korean folk belief, birds are auspicious creatures that provide a village with grain and, subsequently, peace and prosperity. Birds are intermediaries that traverse between the heavens and the Earth. Archaeological excavations of Bronze Age sites (10th to 4th century BCE) in the Korean Peninsula have uncovered a wealth of artifacts associated with birds, and ducks in particular. Ducks—which divide their time between air, land, and water—are one of the main migratory birds inhabiting the peninsula, migrating and breeding according to the seasons. They are associated with the cyclical activities of agriculture, from sowing in the spring to harvesting in the autumn, and they are also symbols of marriage and fertility. These duck-shaped earthenware vessels were discovered at burial sites from Joyeong-dong in Gyeongsan, and Jungsan-ri in Ulsan (respectively). Such vessels were used to hold liquid (e.g., water or alcohol), which could be poured through holes in the back and tail sections of the duck. The ancient Chinese historical text Sanguozhi (“Records of the Three Kingdoms”) has a section called “Accounts of the Eastern Tribes,” which states that “[Eastern tribes] use the feathers of a large bird to help the spirit of the deceased fly [into heaven].” Thus, it would seem that vessels like these were likely intended to replicate a bird (probably a duck). They were probably used at funerals to guide the spirit of the deceased to heaven, and then buried together with the deceased.


  • Title: Duck-shaped Vessels
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: Proto-Three Kingdoms Period, 3rd century
  • Location: Jungsan-dong, Ulsan (right) · Joyeong-dong, Gyeongsan (left), Korea
  • Physical Dimensions: h32.5 cm
  • Original Title: 오리모양 토기
  • Type: Pottery
  • Rights: National Museum of Korea

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