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.

4. The Chronology of Archaic Archaeological Sites8

I) Prehistoric epoch (early first millennium BCE to seventh century CE)

The first phase of the prehistoric epoch includes those sites that were founded in the early Iron Age (first half of first millennium BCE), and the developed Iron Age (middle and late first millennium BCE) of Inner Asia. Possibly, late Bronze Age (circa 1200 to 800 BCE) affiliations are also indicated in the first phase of prehistoric Tibetan civilization, but this remains difficult to corroborate.9 A treatment of more remote prehistoric epochs (Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic) falls outside the purview of the current study.10 The second or later phase of the prehistoric epoch corresponds to an anachronistic extension of the Iron Age, marked by the Central Tibetan line of kings (late first millennium BCE to the seventh century CE). This second phase of the prehistoric epoch can be termed the protohistoric or legendary monarchal period, due to the many Tibetan literary records that refer to the Central Tibetan kings of that time. There are also BönBon texts purported to have been written in this time frame, though solid evidence for this allegation is lacking. These literary records include some assumed to have been first written in the ZhangzhungZhang zhung and SumpaSum pa languages, which came to be translated into Tibetan during the imperial period. According to the Tibetan historical tradition, the plateau of the Iron Age was divided into a number of petty states and governed by a succession of demigod chieftains. The protohistoric period in turn, is marked by the rise of the yar lungYar lung or PugyelSpu rgyal dynasty beginning with King Nyatri TsenpoGnya’ khri btsan po (traditional chronologies place him in the circa 200 BCE period).


[8] This section of the work is also derived from Bellezza, Zhang Zhung.
[9] At present the scant chronometric data do not demonstrate that any of the archaeological sites surveyed date to the late second millennium BCE or earlier. I suspect, however, that this current age limitation will be overcome as the pace of archaeological research intensifies and Bronze Age (especially late Bronze Age) structures can be positively identified. As in Central Tibet, some Upper Tibetan monuments may even prove to date to the Neolithic. An earlier periodization is particularly likely for tombs, because in all adjoining regions where chronometric and collateral archaeological data have been assembled, there are burials that predate the first millennium BCE. Another possible exception to an early Iron Age chronological basement are certain Upper Tibet rock art sites and compositions, which in terms of the techniques of manufacture and style conform to what some Central Asian rock art specialists would consider to be Bronze Age schema.
[10] For reviews of these earlier epochs see Aldenderfer, “The Prehistory of the Tibetan Plateau”; Chayet, Art et Archéologie du Tibet. Sites attributed to the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic have been discovered in Upper Tibet, but far more research is needed to determine when the high plateau was first peopled and how these earlier occupations contributed to the later course of civilization in the region.

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.