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.2. Residential Structures in Other Locations: Religious and Elite Residences

Drakgam DzongBrag sgam rdzong

Basic site data

  • Site name: Drakgam DzongBrag sgam rdzong
  • English equivalent: Rock Formation Chest Fortress
  • Site number: B-40
  • Site typology: I.2a, I.2b
  • Elevation: 4760 m to 4800 m
  • Administrative location (township): MepaSmad pa
  • Administrative location (county): ShentsaShan rtsa
  • Survey expedition: HTCE
  • Survey date: September 25, 2002
  • Contemporary usage: None.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS IX
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

Drakgam DzongBrag sgam rdzong is situated on the spur of a ridge overlooking the rich pasturelands of the Druk Tsangpo’Brug gtsang po basin. The location commands wide views of the Druk Tsangpo’Brug gtsang po basin in all but the eastern direction. The site consists of six buildings that were established on a turf-covered southern aspect ridgeback. These structures are set 5 m to 7 m vertically apart in a more or less single line on the approximately 15° slope. Although the site is called a fortress (dzongrdzong), the rather exposed spur it was built on is not particularly defensible. The high ground of an adjoining summit outflanks the site. Furthermore, there is an absence of the defensive bulwarks usually associated with Upper Tibetan strongholds. Drakgam DzongBrag sgam rdzong is more likely to have been an elite residence with both religious and social functions. The highest edifice of the site (RS1) exhibits rammed-earth (gyanggyang) walls, a construction feature rarely found in archaic cultural horizon JangtangByang thang architecture. Other walls of the complex are of the random-rubble clay- or mud-mortar type. These walls (60 to 70 cm thick) contain variable-length stones (primarily a blue-gray metamorphic rock?), the exterior faces of which were hewn flat. Except for RS1, all edifices were built with all-stone corbelled roof assemblies. This is the most easterly site in Upper Tibet to still have in situ evidence of such constructions. Unlike all-stone structures at some other sites, those at Drakgam DzongBrag sgam rdzong are not well aligned in the cardinal directions.

Drakgam DzongBrag sgam rdzong apparently drew its economic well-being from the extensive pasturage that lies below the site (regional and inter-regional trade notwithstanding). To the south and east of the ridge there are a series of springs that must have provided water for the inhabitants. The use of composite rammed earth and stone walls, as well as the oral tradition surrounding the site, suggest that Drakgam DzongBrag sgam rdzong dates to the early historic period. The archaic cultural identity of Drakgam DzongBrag sgam rdzong is supported by the following factors:

  1. Its lofty and isolated setting on an exposed JangtangByang thang ridge.
  2. The largely all-stone corbelled construction of the complex.
  3. The complete absence of Buddhist emblems and contemporary ritual usage.
  4. The oral tradition connected to the site.

Oral tradition

Local elders have preserved the following legend: When Tibet was looking for a Buddhist capital in the 7th century CE Drakgam DzongBrag sgam rdzong was considered before LhasaLha sa. The site, however, was found to be unsuitable. The fortress was then founded at this location. Later, it met its end when a group of bandits harried the area. This led to a duel between the bandit chieftain and the leader of Drakgam DzongBrag sgam rdzong. As a result, both figures were killed. The two antagonists are said to be buried at the site. Township officials of MepaSmad pa report that substantial amounts of human remains have been found in the vicinity of the fortress during the construction of houses.

Site elements

Residential complex
Residential Structure RS1

Residential structure RS1, elevated 70 m above the Druk Tsangpo’Brug gtsang po basin, is the highest and largest structure of Drakgam DzongBrag sgam rdzong. It boasts of stone and rammed-earth walls 4 m to 5 m in height. Although its original height is not known, RS1 appears to have been two stories tall. Its three eastern aspect wall alignments each measure 5.8 m, 2.4 m and 3 m. Its other walls measure: 7 m (south), 9.6 m (north) and 9.8 m (west). The lower portions of the walls (up to 1.3 m high) are composed of random-work with variable-sized stones (primarily 20 cm to 50 cm long). These stone walls are surmounted by highly eroded rammed-earth upper walls (now 50 cm to 60 cm thick). The rammed-earth contains a prominent gravel matrix and stone slabs are embedded in a few places in these walls. The regularly spaced orifices used to hold the shuttering pins during the construction process are visible all along the earthen walls.

On its exterior north and west faces, RS1 is reinforced by stone buttresses up to 2 m in height. The entranceway is on the east side of the building. From a landing, it climbs 2 m to the interior of the building. There are three main partition wall fragments still in situ in RS1, but originally it may have been subdivided into more rooms. Near the west corner of the interior, two corbels protrude around 20 cm from the outer wall. These corbels are suspended 60 cm above the current floor level (originally, the floor appears to have been much lower). In close proximity to these in situ corbels are the remains of a basement (3 m wide, 1.5 m deep). The roof of this inferior space is composed of corbels and bridging stones, which are now obscured by much earth and stone debris. There are the remains of a partition wall in the basement.

RS1 is enclosed by substantial retaining walls in all directions. The dimensions of these low-lying walls are as follows: 15.6 m (north), 19.8 m (south), 9.8 m (west), and 8.6 m (east). South and east of RS1, along the edge of the rocky formation, there are random-work walls that reach 2.3 m in height. Perhaps this was a ceremonial feature.

Residential Structure RS2

Residential structure RS2 was built into a cliff face on the east side of the ridge. It is situated approximately 7 m below RS1. RS2 consists of a façade wall (3.6 m long, up to 4 m high) that encloses the side of the cliff. The top of the façade has a 60 cm overlap (created by the progressive inward placement of the vertical courses of masonry), indicating that RS2 had an all-stone corbelled roof. The façade is punctuated by an intact entranceway (1.2 m by 65 cm). The single room inside (2.2 m by 2.4 m) has a floor-to-ceiling height of at least 2 m.

Residential Structure RS3

Residential structure RS3 (6.8 m by 6 m) is situated 21.5 m from RS2 in a downhill or southerly direction. Built on a rock outcrop, this building apparently consisted of four rooms. The stone walls of RS3 are 60 cm to 70 cm thick, and up to 2 m in height on the downhill/east side of the structure. The two south/lower rooms are heavily disintegrated. The entranceway to RS3 is in the east corner of the south half of the structure. This entranceway (90 cm by 55 cm) climbs about 1 m from the exterior side of the building to the interior. In the northwest room three pairs of corbels as well as two bridging stones are still affixed to the walls. The bridging stones (1 m long) were laid diagonally across two corners of the northwest room. There is a niche in the south wall, a niche in the west wall and two niches in the north wall of the northwest room (the largest of which measures 50 cm by 35 cm). In the northeast room there are two in situ pairs of corbels and a bridging stone in the corner.

Residential Structure RS4

Residential structure RS4 (6.3 m by 6.5 m) is located 22 m downhill of RS3. The lower part of this edifice is situated on the edge of an east-facing cliff. All walls in this structure have been reduced to 1 m or less in height. RS4 was built with two distinct elevations. The lower tier is highly degraded thus little can be said about its ground plan. The upper tier probably contained two or three small rooms. The upper/rear wall of RS4 is set 80 cm into the slope.

Residential Structure RS5

Residential structure RS5 (6.6 m by 4 m), a highly dissolute structure, is situated 34 m down the ridgeback from RS3. Its walls are around 60 cm thick. RS5 was probably divided into at least two rooms. The south wall (exterior height: 2 m, interior height: 1.4 m) is the most intact element remaining in the structure. The rounded corners of the south wall are a telltale dokhangrdo khang design trait.

Residential Structure RS6

Residential structure RS6 (4.8 m by 10.2 m) is situated 32 m downhill of RS5. This structure has been reduced to its footings. It is bisected by one main partition wall footing.


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.