Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
Antiquities of Zhang Zhung
by John Vincent Bellezza
Edited by Geoffrey Barstow, Mickey Stockwell and Michael White
Tibetan & Himalayan Library
Published under the THL Digital Text License.

3. Criteria Used in the Determination of Archaic Archaeological Sites6

1) Sites in BönBon literature attributed to personages, events, facilities, and locations associated with the Zhang ZhungZhang zhung and SumpaSum pa kingdoms

Especially when used in conjunction with other archaeological criteria, Tibetan literature is a precious indicator of the location and identity of archaic monuments. BönBon (and to a lesser degree Buddhist) texts are an excellent and extensive source for mythic and quasi-historical accounts relating to places in Upper Tibet supposed to have been important centers of the ancient Zhang ZhungZhang zhung and SumpaSum pa kingdoms. These texts provide biographical data about the lives of Zhang ZhungZhang zhung and SumpaSum pa saints, including information regarding their residences and political dealings with local potentates and foreign enemies. These literary accounts are framed in both the prehistoric epoch and early historic period, but their historicity remains obstinately difficult to corroborate. For the most part, BönBon literary sources postdate the eleventh century CE (centuries after the historical events they purport to chronicle) and are heavily colored with mythic and hagiographic content, significantly limiting their value as prosaic historical documents. This literature names geographic locations, some of which can be confidently correlated to the contemporary toponymic picture (places such as MamikMa mig, PurangPu rang, GugéGu ge, DangraDang ra, TagoRta rgo, TiséTi se, NamtsoGnam mtsho, TanglhaThang lha, etc.), while the identity of others has either not been established or only tentatively. As the chronology of BönBon mythic and quasi-historical materials pertaining to Zhang ZhungZhang zhung and SumpaSum pa is uncontrolled (by associative events such astronomical phenomena, natural disasters, cross-cultural references, calendrical lore, etc.), it limits their use as indexes of time, except in the broadest sense.

Moreover, BönBon sources have been subjected to an ongoing process of textual revision, altering the portrayal of early historical events. This modification of contents expresses itself in two major ways: the idealization of past patterns of settlement and cultural achievement, and the reconfiguration of the archaic cultural heritage using the language and concepts of Buddhism. Nonetheless, BönBon literature furnishes us with valuable contextual information on major centers of early settlement and their cultural and religious complexion. For one thing, a comparison of textual-based geographic lore related to Zhang ZhungZhang zhung with the patterns of archaic monumental distribution in Upper Tibet reveals a strong positive correlation.


[6] This section of the work was derived from Bellezza, Zhang Zhung.

Note Citation for Page

John Vincent Bellezza, Antiquities of Zhang Zhung: A Comprehensive Inventory of Pre-Buddhist Archaeological Monuments on the Tibetan Upland (Charlottesville, VA: Tibetan & Himalayan Library, 2010), .

Bibliographic Citation

John Vincent Bellezza. Antiquities of Zhang Zhung: A Comprehensive Inventory of Pre-Buddhist Archaeological Monuments on the Tibetan Upland. Charlottesville, VA: Tibetan & Himalayan Library, 2010.