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

TsodoMtsho do

Basic site data

  • Site name: TsodoMtsho do
  • English equivalent: Lake Island
  • Site number: B-131
  • Site typology: I.2a
  • Elevation: 4740 m to 4780 m
  • Administrative location (township): RuntorRu ’thor
  • Administrative location (county): Drongpa’Brong pa
  • Survey expedition: TILE
  • Survey date: February 25, 2006.
  • Contemporary usage: None.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: One inscribed plaque.
  • Maps: UTRS VI, HAS D1
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

TsodoMtsho do, in Ngangla RingtsoNgang la ring mtsho (4720 m), is the largest island in Upper Tibet. At its closest point the 12 km long TsodoMtsho do is situated 5 km from the mainland. The highest spot (5000 m) on the island is in the east, rising high above the ancient residential site. The settlement of TsodoMtsho do was smaller and architecturally less impressive than its island counterparts in NamtsoGnam mtsho or DaroktsoDa rog mtsho, and this despite the great size of the island. There are five all-stone corbelled structures on TsodoMtsho do, which on the average are more modestly built than those on other Upper Tibetan islands. These constitute the highest elevation ancient lake settlement in Upper Tibet.162 They are found in a sheltered valley on the south side of the island. This valley has wide sandy benches and several still functioning corrals. The dokhangrdo khang were established on a steep rocky slope that encloses the north side of the valley. They all have a southern aspect and look clear across the east side of Ngangla RingtsoNgang la ring mtsho to the meridian range separating RuntorRu ’thor from RishiRi shi. The all-stone corbelled edifices have random-rubble texture walls (50 cm to 70 cm thick) containing variable-length uncut blocks (up to 70 cm). Primarily a hard, bluish fine-grained rock was used in construction. Seams were filled with a white clay-based mortar, much of which has disappeared with time. Roof appurtenances are 80 cm to 1.3 m in length. The modest construction of these dokhangrdo khang is typified by their smaller size (two to four rooms in each), thinner walls (50 cm to 70 cm), lower ceilings, and the absence of spacious courtyards.

Reportedly, there are no permanent sources of potable water on TsodoMtsho do and, unlike NamtsoGnam mtsho, DaroktsoDa rog mtsho or Langa TsoLa lnga mtsho, the water of Ngangla RingtsoNgang la ring mtsho is not potable.163 The presence of an ancient settlement of all-stone corbelled residences on the island indicates that perennial sources of water must once have been present on TsodoMtsho do.164 Yet, potable water may have always been a factor limiting the development of the island community, given its relatively small size. Some Ombu’om bu (tamarisk) and dramagra ma grows on the island, valuable sources of wood. More than 100 goats and sheep and a few dozen yaks could potentially be kept on permanent basis on TsodoMtsho do. Such flocks could have provided the ancient residents with a significant source of food and other products. Insular natural resources aside, TsodoMtsho do is likely to have been one of the most important sedentary centers in the region with relatively wide-ranging cultural and economic ramifications. The only other archaic residential site discovered near Ngangla RingtsoNgang la ring mtsho is the stronghold of GülringMgul ring (A-96).

Oral tradition

Local drokpa’brog pa report that TsodoMtsho do was an ancient religious settlement.

Site elements

Shrine complex

On a wide sandy bench in close proximity to several corrals there is an ancient shrine complex. It consists of two rectangular masonry structures of the type found on other Upper Tibetan islands. They are made from a bluish metamorphic (?) rock of variable length (to 90 cm long). These ceremonial structures were established according to localized frames of reference and are not aligned in the cardinal directions. The larger of the two specimens (6 m by 3.4 m) has been leveled to 50 cm or less in height. The smaller specimen (1.8 m by 2 m by 1 m) is situated 4.3 m to the north. Its walls have a random-rubble texture and a hard, white clay-based mortar in the joints. The top section of the smaller shrine appears to have been rebuilt (it has a much cruder presentation than the rest of the structure). This monument is no longer actively used. Beside this structure there is a stone slab 1 m long with the manima ṇi mantra carved twice. The crude lettering has undergone a significant degree of repatination.

Residential Structure RS1

Residential structure RS1 is the lowest elevation and most degraded dokhangrdo khang at TsodoMtsho do (30.79΄ / 13.71΄ / 4760 m). RS1 appears to have been fairly well aligned in the cardinal directions, and measures 7.3 m (east-west) by 5.6 m (north-south). The disintegrated rear/north wall is set as much as 70 cm into the uphill slope. Only in the northwest corner of the structure is there a coherent wall segment surviving.

Residential Structure RS2

Residential structure RS2, an L-shaped structure, is well aligned in the compass points and measures 7.6 m (east-west) by 4 m (north-south) (30.81΄ / 13.72΄ / 4780 m). The forward/south wall of RS2 is elevated about 1 m above the slope. On the west side (shorter arm of the L) of RS2 there is a single room (2.7 m by 1.9 m by 1.9 m). A portion of the roof is still intact, but the rear wall of this room has been reduced to 1.1 m or less in height. There is a niche in the upper northwest corner of the west unit room (30 cm by 50 cm by 50 cm). There appears to have been an entranceway between the west unit room and the forward east unit of RS2.

The east unit of RS2 is divided into forward/south and rear/north sections. The forward portion was either a room or an open area (3.9 m by 2.9 m). The entranceway appears to have been in the east (perhaps accessing a landing or anteroom) but the walls have been largely obliterated (up to 90 cm high). The rear section of the east unit of RS2 consists of a single room (1.7 m by 2 m by 1.7 m). The entranceway to this room is in the south (opens to the forward room) and about half its roof is intact. Next to the entranceway there is a small window opening (30 cm by 20 cm) and two niches in the rear wall. The forward wall of the east unit rear room has an exterior height of 2 m. The rear/north wall of this room is 1.7 m high, 1.2 m of which is underground. The roof assembly adds another 50 cm to the height of the structure. Being set below the ground on the north side protected the east unit rear room from the severe winds originating in this direction. The well-insulated niches in the rear wall may even have been used for cold storage in the summer months.

Residential Structure RS3

Residential structure RS3 is also generally aligned in the cardinal directions and measures 11m (east-west) by 4.2 m (north-south) (30.80΄ / 13.74΄ / 4760 m). RS3 is divided into three units: east, central and west. The east unit appears to have been comprised of a landing or small courtyard (interior dimensions: 2.5 m by 2.3 m). On this side of RS3, the forward/south wall, including the revetment, has a maximum height of 2.3 m. The central unit (interior dimensions: 2.5 m by 2.3 m) of RS3 had a rear room and perhaps a forward one as well. The forward wall of the central unit is now only 1.1 m high, not including its disintegrated revetment. The rear/north wall of the central unit has a maximum interior height of 1.3 m. The west unit of RS3 consists of a forward/south room (1.7 m by 1.7 m) and a rear/north room (2.5 m by 1.5 m). Much of the roof of the west unit is intact. The wall between the forward room and rear room of the west unit is flush with the ground on the south side and 1.3 m high on the north/inner side. The entranceway to the west unit forward room opens to the forward portion of the central unit. The rear/north wall of the west unit rear room is partly masonry and partly hewn from the slope. As the floor-to-ceiling height in this space was only around 1.2 m, it probably did not serve as a habitation.

Residential Structure RS4

Residential structure RS4 has an L-shaped plan and is not well aligned in the compass points (coordinates not available). The maximum dimensions of this structure are 6 m (south wall) by 5.5 m (east wall). There is a single room in the west unit (1.7 m by 1.5 m) with a west-facing entranceway (1.1 m by 70 cm). A bit of the roof still clings to the east corner of this room. The walls of the west unit room reach a maximum height of 1.2 m (forward) and 1.5 m (rear). There are also two east unit rooms in RS4: forward/south and rear/north. The south wall and east wall of the east unit forward room (2.9 m by 2.5 m) are leveled. It is not certain whether this space was an actual room, a landing or both. The partially intact entranceway (1.2 m by 60 cm) to the east unit rear room (1.6 m by 1.8 m) is in the north wall of the forward east room. In the back of the east unit rear room there is a large recess measuring 2.1 m (east-west) by 80 cm (north-south) by 90 cm in height. The opening in this recess measures 70 cm by 70 cm. The function of this highly sheltered semi-subterranean space is not immediately apparent. Perhaps it was used for ritual purposes. The forward wall of the east unit rear room is 1.7 m in height and the rear wall is up to 1.2 m in height. Only a couple of corbels are still in situ. The current floor-to-ceiling height of the east unit rear room is 1.2 m.

Residential Structure RS5

Residential structure RS5 is fairly well aligned in the cardinal directions and measures 8 m (east-west) by 5.4 m (north-south) (30.85΄ / 13.80΄ / 4780 m). The forward wall of this structure is now only around 1 m in height. There is a single northwest room (2 m by 1.9 m by 1.3 cm) with three corbels and one bridging stone in place. Immediately south of the northwest room there is a leveled area, either the remains of a smaller room or an open area. There were probably one or two rooms east of this space but the scanty structural evidence is inconclusive.


[162] There were 15 major ancient insular settlements in Upper Tibet (some of the islands have since become headlands due to the receding of the lake waters). They include: SemoSe mo East (B-126) and SemodoSe mo do West (B-127) in NamtsoGnam mtsho; Serdo KhangchenSer do khang chen in Tso NgonmoMtsho sngon mo (not yet surveyed); Podo GongmaSpos do gong ma (B-11), Podo SharmaSpos do shar ma (B-12) and DodrilbuDo dril bu (B-13) in Trari NamtsoBkra ri gnam mtsho; ZhapjéZhabs rjes (B-15), DotagaDo rta sga East (B-128), DotagaDo rta sga South (B-129) and DodrilbuDo dril bu (B-130) in DaroktsoDa rog mtsho; TsodoMtsho do (B-131) in Ngangla RingtsoNgang la ring mtsho; DoserDo ser (B-132) and DomukDo smug (B-133) in Langa TsoLa lnga mtsho; Gönpé DoDgon pa’i do (B-37) in Tsomo Ngangla RingtsoMtsho mo ngang la ring mtsho; and Mikpa KharruRmigs pa mkhar ru (A-37) in LokpuktsoGlog phug mtsho.
[163] In midwinter drokpa’brog pa of the region spend ten to 15 days on TsodoMtsho do grazing their livestock. They have built corrals on the southeast side of the island at a location called KochungKo chung (sp.?). These shepherds and their animals repeatedly cross back and forth to the mainland to obtain drinking water.
[164] In addition to springs, freshwater may have come from seepage pits built on the beach or from collection points such as tanks or even furrows and crevices in the rocky outcrops of the island.

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.