Since 1991, the Nepal-German Project in High Mountain Archaeology
excavated the southern portions of the Chokopani caves and tested bones
by radiocarbon dating. Dr. Angela Simons reported that the results of
the carbon dating revealed people have lived in these caves since at
least 800 B.C. The team also excavated several caves which exist between
the villages of Kagbeni and Dzong in the Mukthinath Valley of southern
Mustang. They found many ancient artifacts in these caves as well. Later,
the Nepal-German High Mountain Archaeology team headed by Dr. Huttel
also excavated a mound near Khyinga Village in Mukthinath valley. Dr.Huttel,H.G.
concluded that this ruin was inhabited in the second century A.D. (Huttel
As is evidenced by these discoveries, Mustang District is home to
a huge number of caves complex. Most of the caves are isolated and located
in high cliffs. Most are also inaccessible without the use of ropes
and ladders. Other caves are located in or near the villages of Tshug,
Tsele, Tangye, Drakmar, Marang, and Luri, as well as beside Kali Gandaki
river basin. In Tsho Shyar, north of Lo Manthang in northern Mustang
District, one complex cave systems still exists with original dwellings
and grain storage areas still intact. These caves are interlinked by
tunnels, and, when inside, these caves feel like an intricate ant's
nest. One cluster of 60 rooms remains in this settlement, and is an
ideal location for further archaeological investigation. Other caves
in this settlement are isolated and have been destroyed or rendered
inaccessible due to erosion over the centuries. This erosion destroyed
the front part of the cave and tunnels. Today, only the deeper part
of the cave walls remain.
Due to time and funding constraints, the Nepal-German Project on High
Mountain Archaeology team was unable to excavate any of the caves in
upper Mustang. As such, we have not been able to discern whether or
not the caves of Chokopani and the cave complexes in upper Mustang were
constructed and inhabited during the same period. Further archaeological
analysis and comparisons are required in order to better understand
the relationship between the sites in Mustang, as well as between these
sites and archaeological ruins in Tibet.
In the western Tibetan prefecture of Ngari (mNga`-ris), especially
in the Sutlji river basin, there are similar types of sheer vertical
cliff dwellings such as those found in Mustang. Specifically, cave complexes
are located at Guru-gyam, Khyung-lung, Pangtha, mDa`-ba,rTsa -hrang,
Shang, Dong-khar and Pyi-wang in the Sutlji river basin. However, until
now no evidence of Tibetís pre-Buddhist period has been found
through excavation of these caves. However, one Chinese archaeologist
has already excavated pre-Buddhist antiquities from other sites near
the caves. In 1998, Prof. Zhang Jianlin of the Shaanxi Archaeology Institute
excavated at Karpu ruin one kilometer east from the rTsa hrang ruin
ñ the location of the Guge kingdom castle and temples. In these
excavations, Prof. Jianlin unearthed wooden coffins which contained
human bone, a variety of pottery and sheep bones. According to radiocarbon
dating, the oldest parts of these caves date back as early as 500 BC.
In 1999. Prof.Huo Wei and Li Yong Xian of The Center for Tibetan
studies of Sichuan University, along with Prof. Mark Aldenderfer of
The Department of Anthropology, University of California Santa Barbara,
excavated ancient residential architecture near the Dongkhar village
in the Ali prefecture. They found ceramic assemblages and stone stelae
that were dated approximately to 85 BC according to radiocarbon dating
This information raises a question on the above ruins and antiquities.
Namely, are the ruin of Mustang and Western Tibet representative of
the same culture and civilization? Or, which has influenced the other?
The current research on this topic is lacking in a comparative studies
approach between the cave complexes of Mustang and that of the Sutlji
River basin. From an archaeological perspective, there is currently
no physical evidence linking or forming a cultural relationship between
these two areas. Therefore, the comparative research is necessary.
The Zhang Zhung kingdom was described in the Bon religious texts,
Dunhuang documents, and other Tibetan historical text. Oral and literary
Tibetan tradition mentions that Zhang Zhung was made up of three different
regions: sGo-ba, the outer; Phug-pa, the inner; and Bar-ba, the middle.
The outer is what we might call Western Tibet, from Gilgit in the west
to Dangs ra khyung rdzong in the east, next to the lake gNam-mtsho,
and from Khotan in the north to Chu mig brgyad cu rtsa gnyis in the
south (Karmay 1998). The south margin of Zhang Zhung as Chu-mig brgyad
cu rtsa gnyis is identified as Mukthinath in Mustang. So the location
of cave systems and ancient ruins in Mustang overlap with territory
of Zhang Zhung. However we still can not identify whether or not these
antiquities belong to Zhang Zhung culture, because we are not sure when
Zhang Zhung kingdom commenced, or reached its height. It is possible
these ancient caves and ruins of Mustang belong to pre-Zhang Zhung cultures.
Traditions mention that Zhang Zhung was conquered by king Srong btsan
sgam po in the middle of seventh century A.D. At that time, the capital
of Zhang Zhung was located at Khyung lung dngul mkhar, which was identified
as Khyung lung village near the Sutlej River. If in the future archaeologists
excavate this area and discover antiquities that are proven to be objects
of the early seventh century or sixth century by carbon dating, then
most probably we can recognize them as the evidence of Zhang Zhung culture.
After that, we can use these objects as criterions of Zhang Zhung culture.
However, to date, these archaeological researches are merely fragments
of the puzzle of a large picture. To proceed with the archaeological
aspect of Zhang Zhung study, we need to research even larger areas mentioned
Since the early 1990s the American cultural historian John Vincent
Bellezza has explored northwest Tibet and other Himalayan regions. He
discovered many fortresses, dozens of temples, villages, rock art (pictographs,
petroglyphs, monoliths), and numerous burial complexes. However he was
unable to excavate these ruins according to Chinese archaeological regulations.
Based on his significant frontier work, these ruins should be excavated
and for radiocarbon dating to obtain supports for above suppositions.
(Bellezza 2001,2002) According to traditions, the territory of Zhang
Zhung was not limited within the current border of China Tibet. So we
need to extend studies to other Himalayan regions such as Ladakh, Uttaranchal
and Uttar Pradesh in India and Mustang in Nepal. The comparative archaeological
researches should also cover Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other places
in Central Asia.
Anthropology and Ethnohistory for Zhang Zhung Studies
When conjecturing about the religion of Zhang Zhung era, we need comparewith
Bon religious rituals and rituals which were described in Dunhuang documents.
Also we need compare the religious myths and rituals of eachethnic group
within Tibeto-Burmese language family and take out common factors. Comparative
linguistic studies within the Tibeto-Burman language family and Zhang
Zhung language have been initiated by Prof. Yashiko Nagano, Tsugihiti,
Takeuhi, George van Driem and Suhnu Ram Sharma (Nagano and LaPolla 2001).
Antholopological/ethnohistorical research for religious aspect for Zhang
Zhung must refer these studies. As there are so many commonfactors among
religious rituals within Tibeto-Burmese language family,when we start
to collect data, we will get confused easily in the chaotic ocean of
information. For this purpose a systematic research planis necessary.
I suggest to focus research onthe soul sending ritualin the funerary
context, as well as thesoulcallingritual.
In 2003, Japanese anthropologist Mikkio Miyamote went to Byang. In
Dharchula of Byang, an area south of Purang in the Nepal-Indian border,
Miamote lived with some ethnic group. He reported that the priests sent
thesoul of the deadto Kyunglung (Chunglung) Gui Bhat (Nine valley of
Kyunglung) in the funeral ritual. When the people die, the priest will
narrate myth and guidethe soul to the ancestor worldvillage by villagelike
a travel itinerary route. This kind ofsoul sendingceremony exists amongother
ethnic groups too, such as the Gurung, Thakali, Tamang, Rai and Limbu
in Nepal, the Kinauri in India and the Chan, Naxi, Moso, Pumi, Nami,
Lisu, Lahu and Yi in China. For example, the Thakali and Gurung, have
a soul sending ritual in which their priests send souls to Lake Manasarovar.
After the lake, it is not be able to identify the name of soul distention
as a real geographical location. Nyimba priests also call the soul or
spirit from Kyunglung. We need researchthe soul callingritual too, asMiyamoto
reported. Other common factors include Naga (klu) and Garuda (khyung)
The information above represent merely fragments of the puzzle in the
large picture of Zhang Zhung study. To prove of existence of Zhang Zhung,
archaeological research, especially excavation between Gilgit, lake
gNam-mtsho, Khotan and Mukthinath and radiocarbon dating for artifacts
will be main activity. To conjecture Zhang Zhung culture, also based
on an artifacts, we need to compare textual study and field research
for various ethnic groupsí languages, rituals and myths. We need
to collect partial knowledge of each subject on Zhang Zhung and share
with scholars who are interested in this pursuit. It is necessary to
establish a common database on Zhang Zhung which will be included multidisciplinary
articles and photos of archaeological artifacts. To exchange information
and make a plan for international scale collaborative research, it is
necessary to hold an international workshop on Zhang Zhung. From this
basis of collaboration, we can try to organize an official association
for Zhang Zhung study.
Aldenderfer, M., 2003, "Archaeological excavations at a pre-Buddhist
residential site in far western Tibet" Abstracts, Tenth Seminar
of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, University of
Bellezza, J.V., 2001, Antiquities of Northern Tibet:Archaeological-Discoveries
on the High Plateau,Adroit Publications
2002, Antiquities of Upper Tibet: Pre-Buddhist Archaeological Sites
on the High Plateau, Adroit Publications
Huttel, H.G., 1993, Excavation at Kingar Mound 1991?h Ancient Nepal
No. 134, pp. 1-17. The Department of Archaeology of Nepal
Karmay,S.G., 1998, A General introduction to the History and Doctrines
of Bon, The Arrow and the Spindle.Studies in History, Myth, Rituals
and Beliefs in Tibet,: Mandala Book Point
Nagano,Y. and LaPolla,R.J., 2001, New Research on Zhangzhung and Related
Himalayan Languages, Bon studies 3. , National Museum of Ethnology Osaka
Simons, A., 1992-93, "Trail excavation of cave system in Mukthinath
Valley" Ancient Nepal, No. 130-133, pp. 1-19. The Department of
Archaeology of Nepal
Tiwari, D.N., 1985, "Cave Burials From Western Nepal Mustang",
Ancient Nepal, No. 85, pp1-12. The Department of Archaeology of Nepal