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

2) Monuments attributed in local oral traditions to the ancient Bönpobon po, the MönMon, personalities in the Ling GesarGling ge sar epic, and the pantheon of genii loci

The oral traditions surrounding the archaic monuments of Upper Tibet tend to contrast with these accounts connected to Buddhist monuments, in which piety and otherworldliness prevail. Since the domination of Lamaism in Upper Tibet, circa 1000 to 1250 CE, religious attitudes developed that altered perceptions of the earlier cultural heritage of the region. Generally speaking, this recasting of history led to the archaic past being viewed with a considerable sense of fear and denial. As Buddhism and systematized BönBon gradually took hold in Upper Tibet, transforming its culture and ethos, the push to reinterpret history gained momentum in society. The major effect of this historical reformulation has been to make the ancient past increasingly resemble Lamaist thought and practice. In the contemporary socio-cultural setting, the archaic monumental wealth of Upper Tibet has been compressed into just four major themes. This thematic compression involves the reduction of the ancient cultural legacy into stereotypic narratives, which now stand as supposed factual representations of the past. This has led to the loss of much historical information once associated with the archaic archaeological assets in the oral tradition of Upper Tibet. The cognitive and affective forces enmeshed in this cultural transformation were not directed at highland archaeological sites alone, but came to express themselves in manifold social and political ways across the Tibetan world.

It is within these four legendary themes that clues pointing to the identification of archaic monuments must be sought: (1) the ancient BönBon, (2) the MönMon, (3) the GesarGe sar epic, and (4) the pantheon of local spirits. These legendary and mythic attributions are generally applied to sites that do not fall under the architectural ambit of Lamaist culture. They function as convenient intellectual categories to relegate awkward bits of early heritage (which by their very physical presence cannot be simply brushed aside) to a safe and distant ideological realm. While the oral tradition provides associative evidence of early settlement, it is not well suited to the collection of archaeological facts concerning archaic monuments and rock art. The oral tradition, therefore, is best applied as a non-specific and broadly inclusive interpretive anthropological tool.


[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.