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.

I. Residential Monuments

I.2) Residential structures in other locations

This type of residential site includes all monuments situated in any geographic locality other than those set on top of summits. Such habitations are found on broad slopes (those with higher ground in the immediate area), valley bottoms, ravines, gorges, benches, esplanades, headlands, and at the foot of or in escarpments and outcrops. However, such sites are seldom found in the midst of large exposed plains. The same kind of constructional and design elements exhibited by the summit residences are part of this category of archaic sites. The majority of them appear to have been habitations for religious and other high social status forms of residency. We might expect that, when most of the population of the JangtangByang thang was housed in black yak hair tents (dranaksbra nag) and other types of temporary shelters, the occupation of highly weatherproof permanent habitations was a mark of social distinction and achievement. This, indeed, was the state of affairs in the pre-modern JangtangByang thang. Cave residences are found throughout Upper Tibet, but in numbers that would not have permitted more than a small fraction of the total population to avail themselves of such facilities in any given period (with the notable exception of GugéGu ge with its many thousands of caves).

I.2a) All-stone corbelled buildings

These edifices are of the same design and construction as those perched on summits, the main difference between them being situational in nature. As such, all-stone corbelled buildings or dokhangrdo khang located away from high ground lack a strong defensive aspect. Functional differences in the kinds of occupancy may be implied by these locational contrasts. All-stone edifices removed from summits tend to be individual dwellings separated from one another by meters or tens of meters of distance. This contrasts with the clustered plan of many summit sites.

There are differences in design that arose in accordance with varying physical settings. DokhangRdo khang in lower, more open areas often have walled courtyards on their forward (usually east or south) side. These domestic spaces, enclosed by random-rubble dry-mortar walls, must have been used for chores, social functions and other activities appropriate to the outdoor environment. Another difference is that these less defensible dokhangrdo khang frequently have a semi-subterranean aspect. Typically, the rear or uphill slope walls were set deeply into the ground, sometimes so much so that the roof was nearly flush with the slope. In areas where there was an adjacent cliff or rock face, one or more walls of the structure were set partially or entirely below it. Clearly, this saved on the amount of building materials but there are likely abstract cultural factors at play as well. Rear walls of the all-stone corbelled buildings frequently have niches and recesses built into them, adding to the underworld atmosphere of the structures. These subterranean compartments may have had a ritual function such as that connected to the propitiation of chthonic deities.

I.2b) Other free-standing building types

This subtype includes all habitations built with wooden roofs not located on summits. Many of these structures appear to have supported timber roofs. Potentially, sites that had semi-permanent roofing materials such as yak hair cloth or hardened yak hide are also among this category of edifices. The constructional characteristics of sites like Lung NgakLung ngag (B-80) and Dechö Kelmön YülSde chos skal mon yul (B-81) are difficult to judge. Their wall design, building dimensions and alignments appear to have supported less substantial semi-permanent roofing materials. A building with a wooden roof situated in the middle of open ground that can be attributed to an early period is Bumo LhakhangBu mo lha khang (B-87), a highly unusual adobe block edifice. Among the sites of an indeterminate subtype are those that appear to be the vestiges of sizable villages, which were seated on wide benches or gentle slopes. These are usually so deteriorated that only zones of rocky depressions and mounds exist where there were ostensibly once domiciles (see B-71, B-85).

I.2c) Buildings integrating caves and escarpments in their construction

This building subtype is also defined according to geographic placement. It includes all residential structures that were set in or around caves, rock overhangs and fissures. Caves, especially when accompanied by freestanding residential structures, provided one of the most secure and hospitable living environments in the archaic cultural horizon, as they have in more recent times. Most Lamaist era cave habitations were the domain of religious practitioners, but in archaic times it appears likely that a wider spectrum of society was housed in this fashion. Local legends indicate that such sites constituted the original nexus of settlement in numerous locales. This is borne out by the existence of high quality springs at some sites, in stark contrast to the surrounding, often waterless plains. The formative historical nature of cave settlement appears to be particularly the case in the Transhimalayan GugéGu ge region.

In the JangtangByang thang most caves are ensconced in limestone formations. The most common architectural feature in this category of construction is the façade wall, a barrier that served as the front for caves. Stone and mud bays, altars, shelving and platforms are sometimes found inside the caves. In GugéGu ge, where most of the caves were hewn from earth and gravel formations, arched recesses and niches are characteristic internal features. Multi-room and even multi-story edifices were also established within the embrace of caves and rock shelters. These structures possessed both all-stone corbelled roofs (see B-107) and roofs with wooden beams and wattle (see B-110). In addition to dwellings, sanctuaries and temples were sometimes located in larger caverns (see B-108, B-119). These sites have internal structural features such as ceremonial platforms, partition walls, shrines, and even pictographs (see B-118, B-119).


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.