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Cave dwellings in Tsognam (Tsug), Upper Mustang, Nepal

The Study of Zhang Zhung:

Attempts at Establishing a New Discipline

Paper of presentation given at the 10th International Conference of the International Association of Tibetan Studies,
6-12 September 2003, Oxford, UK

Hiroya Iida
Tibetan and Himalayan Resource Center

The study of Zhang Zhung is a very area of inquiry within Tibetan studies. This subject has not been systematically established. As such, it is necessary to make clear the aims of establishing this new field of study within Tibetology. In my opinion, the aim of Zhang Zhung study is to prove of existence of the Zhang Zhung kingdom and to comprehend the characteristics of Zhang Zhung culture. For this purpose, it is necessary to collect and exchange information pertaining to Zhang Zhung between several disciplines: Archaeology, Linguistics, Anthropology, Ethno-history, History, Comparative Religious Studies, and Bon studies. In the paper that follows, I report on past activities, particularly those in the field of archeology, and make some suggestions toward the creation of a sub-section of Tibetology devoted to the study of Zhang Zhung.

Chokopani archives at the Lumbini Museum

Archaeological activity in Nepal and Tibet
In 1979, while installing a hydropower generator in Chokopani, Mustang District, northwestern Nepal, three caves accidentally discovered by Nepali engineer. These caves contained gray and black colored ceramic pottery, metal plates and human bones. Archaeologists hypothesize that these caves were cemeteries, because the corpses were ornamented with shell pendants, copper earrings, copper amulets, beads and musk deer teeth (Tiwari 1985).

Chokopani archives at the Lumbini Museum

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 1993)

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 (Aldenderfer 2003).

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 above.

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) worship.

Action Plan
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 Oxford

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

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