The history of Korea stretches from Lower Paleolithic times to the present.[1] The earliest known Korean pottery dates to around 8000 BCE, and the Neolithic period began before 6000 BCE, followed by the Bronze Age around 2500 BCE. The Gojoseon (Old Joseon) kingdom was founded in 2333 BCE, eventually stretching from the peninsula to much of Manchuria.[2] By 3rd Century BCE, it disintegrated into many successor states.

In the early Common Era, the Three Kingdoms (Goguryeo, Silla, and Baekje) conquered other successor states of Gojoseon and came to dominate the peninsula and much of Manchuria. The three kingdoms competed with each other both economically and militarily. While Goguryeo and Baekje were more powerful for much of the era (especially Goguryeo, which defeated massive Chinese invasions) Silla's power gradually extended across Korea and it eventually established the first unified state to cover most of Korean peninsula by 676, while former Goguryeo general Dae Jo-yeong founded Balhae as the successor to Goguryeo.

Unified Silla itself fell apart in the late 9th century, giving way to the tumultuous Later Three Kingdoms period (892-936), which ended with the establishment of the Goryeo Dynasty. After the fall of Balhae in 926 to Khitan, much of its people led by the Crown Prince Dae Gwang-hyeon were absorbed into Goryeo. During the Goryeo period, laws were codified, a civil service system was introduced, and Buddhism flourished. In 993 - 1019 Khitan Liao Dynasty invaded Goryeo and were repelled. In 1238, the Mongolian Empire invaded and after nearly thirty years of war, the two sides signed a peace treaty.