Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
by John Vincent Bellezza
Edited by Geoffrey Barstow, Mickey Stockwell and Michael White
Tibetan & Himalayan Library
Published under the THL Digital Text License.

II.1. Stelae and accompanying structures: Funerary and non-funerary structures

RokhungRo khung

Basic site data

  • Site name: RokhungRo khung
  • English equivalent: Graves
  • Site number: C-167
  • Site typology: II.1b, II.2b
  • Elevation: 4640 m
  • Administrative location (township): RimarRi dmar
  • Administrative location (county): GertséSger rtse
  • Survey expedition: TUE
  • Survey date: September 28, 2005
  • Contemporary usage: Light grazing.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS III, HAS A3
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Sites Images

General site characteristics

RokhungRo khung is located northwest of TongtsoStong mtsho. This important funerary site has lent its name to the entire valley in which it is situated. This fairly narrow north-south oriented valley has no permanent water source in the vicinity of the archaeological site (further upstream there are springs). Mountains in the range that rises above the north side TongtsoStong mtsho basin hem in the site. RokhungRo khung features two walled pillar complexes as well as a variety of outlying funerary structures. The site is divided into two sectors: east (walled pillars, a funerary enclosure and two tumuli) and west (a set of 13 uniquely designed square funerary structures). The integrity of the east sector of RokhungRo khung is potentially threatened by an ill-placed link road that runs through the valley.

Oral tradition

The name of the site clearly indicates that RokhungRo khung is thought of as a burial ground. RokhungRo khung is believed to have been built and used by the ancient MönMon.

Site elements

East sector walled pillar complexes

The east sector is situated in the valley bottom on gently sloping gravelly ground. The two walled pillar complexes were established in the middle of the valley bottom and command good views north and south. Small pieces of red sandstone and milky quartz are lightly scattered around the site. These stones may have been used as decorative elements at the walled pillar complexes and/or other funerary structures.

South enclosure

The south enclosure is part of the smaller down valley, walled pillar complex. This enclosure is not well aligned in the cardinal directions, and measures 9 m (east-west) by 6 m (north-south). It is primarily built of brown sandstone and a bluish metamorphic rock. The entire structure is somewhat elevated above the surrounding terrain. Parts of all four double-course walls (around 60 cm thick) of the enclosure are intact. These walls are constructed of uncut variable-length slabs and blocks (less than 10 cm to 50 cm long), which were laid flat. The stones are even with the ground surface or slightly rise above it.

South pillars

There are four in situ pillars inside the south enclosure, all of which are made of the same type of bluish metamorphic rock. These pillars are fairly well centered in the enclosure. Two of these unshaped pillars (Long-stones DR1 and DR2) are set against the inner edge of west wall. The north pillar (Long-stone DR1) is tabular and slightly inclined (65 cm [height] by 90 cm [basal girth]). Its broad sides are oriented north and south. The adjacent pillar to the south (Long-stone DR2) is also tabular (65 cm by 80 cm), but its broad sides face east and west. Long-stone DR3 is situated a little south of DR2 and is offset 35 cm from the west wall. DR3 is a three-sided specimen (50 cm by 65 cm). Long-stone DR4 is situated 40 cm east of DR3. DR4 is a tabular specimen (30 cm by 50 cm), whose broad sides are oriented east and west.

North enclosure

The enclosure of the north pillar complex is located 7 m north of the south pillar complex. It is unusual to find two such installations in such close proximity. The north enclosure (10.1 m by 10.5 m) is not well aligned in the cardinal directions. Its square form is an uncommon design variant in this monument typology. The north enclosure is primarily built of brown sandstone and a bluish metamorphic rock. As in the south enclosure, the slabs and blocks of the enclosing walls were laid flat in parallel courses (60 cm to 70 cm thick). These stones are level with the ground surface or project above it slightly. Parts of all four walls of the enclosure have survived intact. The east wall is somewhat elevated above the adjacent terrain.

North pillars

There are about 50 pillars erected inside the north enclosure, the largest number of pillars found in a single enclosure of this typology. The pillars were erected in uneven rows that gravitate towards the west and north walls of the enclosure. The pillars extend along the north wall 5 m east of the west side of the enclosure. Most of the menhirs are made of that bluish metamorphic stone common at RokhungRo khung. However, several other types of rocks were also used, including brown sandstone and at least two types of lighter colored rocks. The use of no less than four different kinds of rocks lends the pillars a multi-colored aspect. The various pillars are three-sided, irregularly shaped and tabular (with the broad sides oriented in various directions). The pillars range in size from 20 cm by 40 cm to 90 cm by 1.1 m. The average height of these standing stones is around 50 cm. A tabular pillar with a broken top (40 cm by 1 m) is found 3.5 m east of the west wall of the enclosure. The broad sides of this isolated specimen are oriented east and west.

East sector outlying structures
Minor arrays of stones

A zone of stones embedded in the ground (1.8 m by 75 cm) is situated 2.1 m west of the west wall of the north enclosure. These stones form a dense array, level with the ground surface. They do not exhibit any discernable design pattern or form. Another dense amorphous mass of stones embedded in the ground (6.5 m by 1.5 m) is found 1.7 m to the west of the smaller array. This larger array is elevated as much as 30 cm above the surrounding ground level. These two concentrations of stones do not appear to be geofacts, but rather funerary ritual structures of some kind.

Funerary Structure FS1

Funerary structure FS1 (5.5 m by 7.5 m) is a quadrate enclosure situated 11 m north or up valley of the north walled pillars complex. The fragmentary double-course perimeter walls (60 cm to 80 cm thick) of FS1 are primarily composed of bluish metamorphic stones. These stones are 10 cm to 40 cm in length and were laid flat on the ground surface.

Funerary Structure FS2

Funerary structure FS2 is situated 47 m north of FS1. This quadrate mound is aligned in the cardinal directions and appears to have had a modified L-shaped plan. It measures 15 m (north-south) by 8 m (east-west: south half) and 6 m (east-west: north half). FS2 has a height of around 1 m. This well-built structure, constructed primarily of brown sandstone, has undergone much degradation. Originally, it may have been somewhat longer than the length given above. There is much rubble around FS2, at least a portion of which was once an integral part of the structure. The most intact element of FS2 is its east wall. The east wall is comprised of as many as eight vertical courses of slabs and attains a height of 50 cm. This wall shows that FS2 was endowed with significant freestanding walls. A small portion of the west wall has also endured. A right angle bend in the west wall demonstrates that FS2 did not have a simple rectangular plan. The top of FS2 undulates, due to the effects of erosion. A small hole was dug on top of this structure, probably in an attempt to recover valuable artifacts.

Approximately 2 m south of the mound there is some evidence that a low-lying wall delineated this side of FS2. The structural traces of this ostensible wall are obscured by rubble. The effects of minor flood events have come quite close to the east side of FS2. Stones found north of the mound, which merge into the flood damaged area, may also have been part of an enclosing wall or an alternative type of ancillary structure. There is a dense zone of stones sticking out of the ground (2.2 m by 1.7 m) 2.7 m west of FS2. An analogous dispersion (6.7 m by 1.8 m) is located 6 m farther west.

Funerary Structure FS3

Funerary structure FS3, another low-lying funerary mound, is situated 41.5 m west of FS2. This highly degraded structure approximately measures 18 m (north-south) by 6.5 m (east-west), and has a maximum height of 1 m. FS3 is primarily built of brown sandstone. The top of FS3 is highly eroded and undulating. Some small remnants of walls have persisted along the edges of the structure. These double-course walls (around 60 cm thick) are of the same design and construction as the walls enclosing the pillars. Other walls of the same type seem to have divided the structure into three or four cells. An analogous double-course wall fragment (5 m long) is located 3 m east of FS3. This poorly aligned east-west wall remnant may have been a constituent element of the mound, forming a portion of an east cell or other type of structural extension.

West sector
Square funerary structures

The west sector of RokhungRo khung is located on the opposite or west side of the valley. The west sector consists of 13 square funerary structures of uniform design and size. They are set about 10 m above the intermittent streambed, on well-drained sandy and grassy slopes. These structures occupy a 65 m long swath of terrain that rises to the west at a moderate angle. The highly degraded square structures of the west sector generally measure 2 m by 2 m, and are built of brown sandstone slabs and blocks (10 cm to 30 cm in length). Integral walls have been reduced to 15 cm to 35 cm in height and, together with the rubble lying on top of them, these structures attain a maximum height of 50 cm. They were skillfully built masonry constructions, which may have reached a height that would have given them a cubic form. One specimen has a rubble-filled depression in the middle of the base, suggesting that these structures possessed central chambers. These chambers most plausibly served as reliquaries or ossuaries.

The morphological affinities that the west sector structures share with the mountaintop cubic tombs are self-evident. There being 13 of these structures at RokhungRo khung is liable to have significant cognitive and procedural significance. In any event, the number 13 played a prominent role in Upper Tibetan and other old Inner Asian cosmological and ritual traditions. While the functional and chronological interrelationships between the east and west sectors of RokhungRo khung are not yet clear, it seems likely that they formed an integrated necropolis. If so, each of the various architectural components of the site and their spatial relationships to one another were constituent parts of a cultural narrative and ritual regimen.

The 13 structures of the west sector are aggregated in five groups plus one isolated specimen. Several specimens are found side by side. These groups are separated from one another by a distance of 4 m to 12.5 m.

Funerary structures FS1, FS2 and FS3 make up the north group:

  1. Funerary structure FS1 is situated 98 m west of FS3 of the east sector. FS1 has an east wall 30 cm in height.
  2. Funerary structure FS2 is situated 2.6 m west of FS1.
  3. Funerary structure FS3 is situated 1.6 m south of FS1. FS3 has what appear to be traces of a central chamber.

Funerary structures FS4 and FS5 constitute intermediate group 1:

  1. Funerary structure FS4 is situated 5.3 m south of FS3. FS4 has significant coherent wall traces.
  2. Funerary structure FS5 is situated 1.7 m south of FS4. FS5 also has significant coherent wall traces.

Funerary structures FS6, FS7 and FS8 constitute intermediate group 2:

  1. Funerary structure FS6 is situated 12.5 m south of FS5.
  2. Funerary structure FS7 is situated 2.4 m south of FS6.
  3. Funerary structure FS8 is situated 1.8 m west of FS7.

Funerary structures FS9 and FS10 constitute intermediate group 3:

  1. Funerary structure FS9 is situated 5.2 m south of FS7.
  2. Funerary structure FS10 is situated 2 m west of FS9.

Funerary structures FS11 and FS12 constitute intermediate group 4:

  1. Funerary structure FS11 is situated 9.2 m south of FS10.
  2. Funerary structure FS12 is situated 2.4 m south of FS11.
  3. Funerary structure FS13 is situated 4 m south of FS12, and is the most southerly specimen in the west sector. FS13 is especially disintegrated.

Note Citation for Page

John Vincent Bellezza, (Charlottesville, VA: Tibetan & Himalayan Library, 2010), .

Bibliographic Citation

John Vincent Bellezza. . Charlottesville, VA: Tibetan & Himalayan Library, 2010.