Mysterious Pits in a North Korean Field, 39.944 N, 125.471 E : Image Analysts Wanted

[Update:    Coordinates corrected.]  

[Update 2:Digg the story here.]

Reader “kdehead” dropped a comment on another post below, with a link to a Google Earth image of a field near  of the “ghost cities” I’d described in this post.  Here is part of the image he links (click for full size):

mystery-pits.JPG

Here is his comment:

::Here is : 

slightly OT”¦ but what is this?

[link to image]

are they trenches/pits with prisoners?

note the bottom one – half full.
the one above – two bunches separated
next one up – full
and the one at the top – full

note the treadmarks/paths in the snow.

are we seeing mass execution pits , or mass burial pits because of famine?? anyone care to throw their two cents of speculation into what we are seeing here.

The resolution makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions, beyond these:  there are several long pits in a field, and some of them are filled or half-filled with elongated white  objects approximately  as long as a set of tire tracks is wide.   I emphasize: I don’t claim to know just what we’re looking at here with any degree of certainty, so I’m asking readers for their best guesses.   Maybe a  smarter reader can  give another plausible explanation. 

On the other hand, the suggestion that this is a burial site doesn’t seem implausible on its face.  We do know that the North Korean famine killed between 600,000 and 3.5 million people.   We know that many of the dead were buried in mass graves (keep reading for an eyewitness account).  In  Korean tradition, white is the color of mourning.  Note also that Andrew Natsios, for Administrator of USAID, now Special Envoy on Darfur, and previously World Vision’s North Korea Director, has previously described witnessing a mass burial of famine victims from across the Chinese border.  His description is chillingly consistent with this image.

I’ve been to famines before. I’ve watched mass burial in North Korea on Tumen River”¦ went up undercover in October, November of 1998″³ when he was across the river with his South Korean friend, Ven. Beopryun, he said.

“We were in China, and we had telescopes, and they dumped 29 bodies in a big pit, and they covered over the bodies. It was a famine, and a lot of people refused to recognize it at the time,” said Natsios.

“They are terrible events, only comparable in my view to genocide.

His South Korean friend (more common spelling, Pomnyun) is a highly respected Buddhist  monk who leads the Korean Buddhist Sharing Movement.  Natsios describes this in more detail in his book, “The Great North Korean Famine.”  He notes that the bodies were wrapped in white  cloth.  For new readers — and there are plenty of you lately — remember that regardless of what this image depicts, a new report documents in exhaustive detail that the famine was a completely preventable crime against humanity.   Kim Jong Il had enough cash laying around to feed these people, but chose to buy weapons  and luxuries for himself  instead.  Even when the UN World Food Program tried to feed the hungry, the regime prevented  aid workers  from getting to some of the areas and recipients in greatest need.

OK, readers.  What say you?

32 comments

  1. kdehead says:

    i dugg the google maps link here , and somebody suggested :

    “i’m leaning towards patches of water. Kind of like a rice field?”

    “appears reflective to me. So possibly iced over?”

    [link to digg entry]

    this doesnt make a lot of sense because the scene is in winter time. and secondly, the tracks in the snow are fresh. those spiderly lines coming from the “pits” could be tracks in the snow laid out by single file prisoners marching to the pits. they are narrower than the car /truck track to the left.

    so you have to ask – what are North Koreans doing in the middle of a paddy field in the middle of winter?

    why does a truck go off the main road, across a field to one of these pits , in the wintertime?

  2. Joshua says:

    I’m more than happy to host that discussion here. I’d honestly like to know what people think.

    I don’t think this looks consistent with reports and video of known mass executions in North Korea, although that certainly does not rule it out.  It is more consistent, in my view, with a mass burial due to famine or disease.  I think the Natsios quote is relevant there.

    Also, I’d love another helping of that Digg traffic….

  3. kdehead says:

    co ordinates for the “pits” are
    39.9443N,125.471018E

  4. kdehead says:

    heres a better view of the southernmost “pit”

    http://i19.tinypic.com/454e9zs.jpg

    one obvious thing to note is how the majority of the paths lead to the “white” area in the pit.

  5. kdehead says:

    in google earth, if you browse to south, you’ll eventually come across a frozen/iced over river. so , that infers we’re talking about severely cold temperatures. possibly mid winter. which then begs the question – what are north koreans doing in the paddy field with the “pits” in the depth of winter?

  6. Joshua says:

    If this was an execution site, I’d expect more footprints or dark stains on the snow. So that would not be my first guess. The North Koreans have a fairly ritualized method for executing people, and they usually do it in small groups in public, before an audience. The evidence does not suggest that people were bused in to see an execution here. The paths lead fairly neatly to the edge of the pit.  The “objects” appear to be laid out in neat rows.  I don’t think people ever die in neat rows wrapped in white blankets.

    On the other hand, this does not look like frozen water, and any guess that this is a rice paddy comes from someone who has (1) never looked at Korean rice paddies on GE, and (2) never been to Korea.

    I don’t rule out other agricultural explanations, but I cannot think of what they could be. They appear to be burying something, but it certainly doesn’t look like kimchee pots (which are dark brown in any event).

    So: I don’t know what this is, but the only explanation I can think of that makes any sense at all, and which is consistent with known evidence, is that this is some kind of mass burial of famine or disease victims.

    Again, there could be other less guesome explanations. I’m waiting to hear what they could be.  Maybe some Diggers can help explain this.

  7. kdehead says:

    Channel 4 (Uk) had a segment on North Korean refugees in northern China, being sheltered secretly by a Christian Chinese network. The reporter interviewed a North Korean man who had fled with his wife and daughter. His son had died of starvation. Also, the man was being paid with food in North Korea.

    Being paid with food infers two things – that a) the illegal markets have gotten out of control, b) rampant internal price inflation and c) its a method of control over the populace.

    If you remove the currency and pay people in food, then that would lessen the impact of a currency driven illegal free market. Of course, one could start bartering, but considering his son died of starvation, I doubt that any North Korean could barter food for other items – unless they are party officials stockpiling food.

    In other words, food itself has become a currency – and a method of control by the North Korean state.

  8. kdehead says:

    the channel4 news report is here:
    http://www.channel4.com/news/special-reports/special-reports-storypage.jsp?id=4603

    you can view the report by clicking on a link in the above url.

  9. Joshua says:

    I can’t thank you enough for all of the good stuff you’ve brought to the discussion here lately.

  10. TellTell says:

    I hope my previous post came through.

    This looks like a missile or is it a shadow ?

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&q=39.75N,+126.31E&ie=UTF8&om=0&t=k&z=18&ll=39.92115,125.488978&spn=0.00186,0.005375

  11. TellTell says:

    Original Post

    Sorry for being a little off topic …
    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&q=39.75N,+126.31E&ie=UTF8&om=0&t=k&z=18&ll=39.92115,125.488978&spn=0.00186,0.005375

    it seems a little bit like a missile ?

    Or is it the shadow of one NK’s infamous ‘wisdom towers’ ?

    I was a bit surprised to find a fairly big urban centre in this part of NK. There seem to be quite a bit tarmac and we see several houses (note the appartment blocks). In this whole range people can be clearly seen on the roads (given that civilians walk on roads designed for cars). Further East a big square can be detected – perhaps for military parades. I wonder whether anyone would know where this ?

    With regards to the pits : I have seen some North Korean countryside and occasionally some (surprisingly) ill-hidden military hardware could be found near roads. I am not suggesting it’s the case here, but it could.

    If we want to be absolutely sure whether these are pits for victims from famine – perhaps similar images can be found on GooEarth within the 39 ‘forbidden’ (inaccessible) counties North Korea has. I am not sure where these are, but perhaps someone else with a better idea of NK’s geography may have an idea ?

  12. Joshua says:

    That thing is not a missile; it’s a political monument.

    I actually have a map of the closed counties somewhere on this blog. I’ll try to find it.

  13. Joshua says:

    OK, just had a chance to look at the “trenches” on GE. They are near a town marked as Taechon, and also near a military airfield with some An-2 colts sitting in earthen revetments. The nearest known forced labor camp is 29 miles away, meaning that it’s unlikely anyone brought people to this location from that camp.

    I note the presence of many other similar trenches in the area, in sufficient quantity to make me think that there may be a less macabre explanation than a mass burial site. It’s just hard to believe that they’re buring that many people.

    I think there has to be some other explanation.

  14. kdehead says:

    those “missiles” are prevalent in nearly every korean town you look at it. its a political monument to the “Dear Leader”.

  15. kdehead says:

    joshua -> just saying that folks were just as skeptical upon seeing overhead fly by auschwitz photos.

    of course, we both have no proof. and the resolution is too low. but then , they also had that problem during the Nazi death camps.

    how do we resolve this? i say, campaign for Google to have more higher res images.

  16. jameskmin says:

    Google has the higher res image, it’s a matter of them releasing them.

  17. Joshua says:

    I don’t think you’re crazy for drawing the conclusion you drew, fwiw. It’s plausible, but something just doesn’t add up.

  18. Christian A. Beltram says:

    I believe this could be a mass grave for victims of executin. Perhaps the victims were xecuted for stealing food. By executing people for stealing foo, the North Koran government wants to hide the evidence that its politial and economic systems are failures.

  19. Peter says:

    There are lots of those ‘pits’, all over the area. They appear to occur in the middles of fields, sometimes more than one to a field. I’m no image expert or anything, but I think the lighter areas in the ‘pits’ are actually structures.

    Zoom in on 39.941N, 125.478E (about 1000 ft east of the original pit image). Those appear to be the same sort of pits, with the same sort of lighter element inside. But to me, at least, those look more like low long sheds or something. But then why the characteristic tracks leading between all of them? I really don’t know.

    If they are pits, where’s all the fill that came out of them?

  20. Peter says:

    Okay, I think I found something I’m much more comfortable labelling as a pit:

    http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&q=41.746N%2C%20128.21E&btnG=Google+Search&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wl

  21. Joshua says:

    Peter, I’m not able to see the image. I zoom in on those coords and I see an oblong-shaped area surrounded by a line cleared of trees. The fan-shaped structure in the NE corner looks like a AAA site, which does attract my curosity, but the area doesn’t show the guard posts that are characteristic of labor camps. There does appear to be a bunker in the end of a road that leads from the NE corner.

    I’ve seen those areas before, and never even ventured a guess as to what they could be. Given the remoteness of the area and the apparent security measures, I’d guess it’s something secret, but I don’t know what.

    Where are the pits you refer to?

  22. Peter says:

    Hmmm. I think I mis-clicked. I was looking at those rings of cleared trees, and that led me to the pits I was referring to. If you look due east of the coords, just after you cross the stream, you will see the pits in a field on the east bank of the stream.

    41.746460N, 128.2611E

  23. Mark says:

    The lighter areas are sheets of plastic. The portions of the pit that are still dark have not been filled with wood chips, garbage, crap, etc. and covered yet. Eventually, the lighter color (plastic) will cover the entire pit.

  24. Sonagi says:

    I’ll weigh in with Joshua, Soldiers wouldn’t bother wrapping executed prisoners in white and lining their bodies up in neat rows.

  25. Joshua says:

    Here’s a map of the closed counties:

    http://static.flickr.com/25/65514241_3a44a3534f.jpg

    This map was compiled based on World Food Program sources.  It’s rather telling that the “access” areas in blue include Camps 14, 18, and 22, the very worst of them.  Since no aid workers have been allowed into those areas, and those camps are absolutely massive, you have to know that “access” is a pretty elastic term as applied here.

  26. Sonagi says:

    I just came back from googling around the area of the pits. I don’t think they’re graves. I can’t see North Koreans wasting valuable tillable land on mass graves when there are bald hills nearby that would better serve that purpose.

  27. Joshua says:

    Of course, in the dead of winter, that rocky soil on the hills would be impenetrable, so the fields would be the only place to dispose of a sudden crop of bodies.

  28. Corpy says:

    I think Mark has proposed the most likely and reasonable explanation for this.

  29. Joshua says:

    Possibly, because my previous would be just as applicable to disposing of garbage. All of this is guesswork.  And it’s also true that in some unknown location, there are mass graves.  Actually, I do know of one location in a camp, confirmed by survivors … I will post later.

    I had previously speculated that this was a very large graveyard, just east of P’yang, but there’s no telling whether those were “natural” or mass burials.  Follow the link for coords.

    On this one, I think it’s going to be harder to come up with an alternative explanation. I don’t know what else these could be.  They’re on a big hill overlooking a river, and they really do look like Korean graves.  There is at least one trench in the lower right hand corner, too.

  30. Lirelou says:

    I’m not a “squint”, so it’s just opinion, but I’m with Mark. Most likely composting pits.

  31. TellTell says:

    Thank you for posting the forbidden county map.
    I’ll have a search this weekend and will post anything unusual in this thread.

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