A kind of funeral prop placed at the burial site, jiseok refers to a stone plate or plaque inscribed with biographical information of the deceased: name, bongwan (Kor. 본관, Chin. 本貫, clan origin), year of birth and death, gyebo (Kor. 계보, Chin 系譜, family lineage), and achievements. The memorial stone plaque also serves as a grave marker.
It is presumed that this kind of memorial stone plaque originated from China and was first introduced to Korea during the Three Kingdoms period. The practice of erecting at the burial site such plaques bearing biograpgical information on the dead has continued from the Goryeo period through the Joseon era up to the present day.
Jiseok is a means to record the life of the deceased and leave behind a memorial. It also serves as a marker that helps to locate a grave if the burial mound disappears. Any material that is solid and highly durable—including but not limited to stone, pottery, stoneware, earthenware, and ceramics—can be used to make the plaque. This f lexibility distinguishes jiseok created in Korea from those in China where a memorial plaque must be made of stone. Until the Goryeo period, indeed, Korean memorial plaques with personal information were primarily made of stone. During the Joseon period, the materials used became so varied that even a bowl inscribed with words was put into a stone box or a wooden coffer to serve the same purpose. Unlike the square memorial stone plaques used in China, flat and three-dimensional forms of various shapes have been used in Korea.
Jiseok often contain detailed personal information on family members or relatives of the deceased as well. A notable characteristic is that they also contain information that is not typically found on a tombstone, such as written accounts of the deceased’s life including time of burial and the making and placement of the memorial plaque. The way information is categorized on the jiseok as well as the contents and style provide valuable source material in regards to Korean and Chinese literature, and the production methods and materials and shapes of the stone plaques are also valuable sources for art history (history of ceramics). In addition, funeral and burial customs, marital relationships, and clan systems are invaluable resources in the fields of history and folk studies.