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

7) Art and artifacts that exhibit archaic stylistic and fabrication traits:

The aesthetic and technical analysis of art and artifacts is best used in conjunction with collateral archaeological data, but even alone it is a helpful method for estimating chronological values. The rock art record provides one of the best indexes of cultural evolution from the archaic to the Lamaist. The prehistoric Upper Tibetan rock art tableaux are rich in compositions that depict economic, environmental and cultural matters related to the way of life in the region. These petroglyphs and pictographs are largely unrelated to Buddhist-inspired art and design as they developed in Tibet. Rock art exhibiting archaic themes (such as hunting scenes, the isolated portrayal of wild animals, and iconic motifs) continued to be produced well into historic times. This suggests that there was a good deal of cultural continuity between the prehistoric and historic epochs in Upper Tibet. Nonetheless, analogous subject matter reveals different modes of manual execution and stylistic presentation, valuable evidence in any attempt at chronological differentiation. As compared to rock art made in the prehistoric epoch, the later variants exhibit their own set of production qualities and aesthetic refinement. Rock art of the historic epoch is either cruder or more polished. This inferred chronological progression is also discernable in other spheres of material culture. Copper alloy artifacts such as amulets, implements and weaponry possess aesthetic and technical features indicative of relative age and cultural affiliation as well.

In addition to these indirect means of assessing archaic cultural status, the radiometric and AMS assaying of organic remains recovered from sites constitute the direct approach to dating. The criteria outlined above are all dependent on inferring chronological information from evidence that does not intrinsically lend itself to scientific verification. For these criteria to be validated, the conclusions drawn from the cultural identity, appearance and location of monuments and rock art must ultimately stand the test of chronometric verification. Over the last four years, I have begun the process of independent corroboration of the suppositions set forth above. I am intent on presenting the identification of the corpus of archaic structural and aesthetic forms in Upper Tibet in a more objective and reproducible fashion. In pursuance of this goal, 20 samples have been submitted for radiometric and AMS analysis (derived from both residential and ceremonial sites). The recovery and archaeometric assaying of far more samples from many more sites is demanded to definitively chart the chronology (and other objective values) of the Upper Tibetan archeological assemblage. Archaeometric inquiry is also essential in weeding out those sites that may not have an archaic cultural horizon status. It is on a good footing that chronometric data assembled thus far have begun to corroborate the presumptions made concerning the temporal orientation of the sites surveyed.


[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.