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

Chunak DoringChu nag rdo ring

Basic site data

  • Site name: Chunak DoringChu nag rdo ring
  • English equivalent: Black Water Long-stones
  • Site number: C-121
  • Site typology: II.1b, II.2b, II.2d
  • Elevation: 4360 m and 4390 m
  • Administrative location (township): MöntserMon ’tsher
  • Administrative location (county): GarSgar
  • Survey expedition: HTCE
  • Survey date: October 24, 2002
  • Contemporary usage: Light grazing.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS V, UTRS X, HAS C3
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Sites Images

General site characteristics

Chunak DoringChu nag rdo ring is located on the right side of the ChunakChu nag valley upstream of KhardongMkhar gdong/Khyunglung Ngül KharKhyung lung dngul mkhar (A-45) and GurgyamGur gyam (B-112). The site occupies a flat that is elevated a few meters above the ChunakChu nag flood plain. The terrain is gravelly and dotted with grass and dramagra ma scrub. The sheer size of Chunak DoringChu nag rdo ring makes it one of the most important funerary sites in Upper Tibet. In total, Chunak DoringChu nag rdo ring covers approximately 20,000 m², making it the largest ceremonial site surveyed to date. It consists of walled pillars, a large tumulus, and several large and smaller groupings of enclosures. Altogether, there are no less than 330 double-course enclosures at ChunakChu nag. All of these cobble structures appear to be part of an integrated funerary complex. This necropolis may be functionally connected to Khyunglung Ngül KharKhyung lung dngul mkhar as complimentary components (residential and burial) of this area’s monumental infrastructure. These two sites are in eyeshot of one another. The presence of so large a funerary complex as ChunakChu nag seems to enhance the importance of KhardongMkhar gdong, in keeping with the legendary status accorded Khyunglung Ngül KharKhyung lung dngul mkhar in Tibetan literature.185

Oral tradition

According to the monks of GurgyamGur gyam monastery, Chunak DoringChu nag rdo ring contains the ruins of an ancient MönMon settlement.

Site elements

Pillar enclosure

The large enclosure is situated just above the right bank of the ChunakChu nag flood plain (31° 09.808΄ N. lat. / 80° 39.087΄ E. long.). It is generally aligned in the cardinal directions and measures 19 m by 19 m. This elaborately built square enclosure is elevated about 50 cm above the surrounding terrain. The enclosure, located near the western extremity of the enclosed pillar typology territorial range, represents a unique variant of the monument. It is bisected into two sections by an east-west running wall. The north section is 12.5 m in width and the south section is 6.5 m wide. The north section is further subdivided by a north-south aligned wall (7.6 m long) that joins the central bisecting wall and an east-west aligned wall (6 m long) that joins the east perimeter wall to form an inner enclosure. The double-course and multiple-course cobble perimeter and subdividing walls (50 cm to 80 cm thick) are composed of different colored (tan, red, gray, and beige) variable-length cobbles (10 cm to 35 cm long). The coherent wall sections are mostly level with the ground surface. There are also disintegrated portions of the perimeter walls composed of stones, which are piled up to a maximum height of 50 cm. These elevated wall sections may have been composed of several vertical courses of cobbles.


In the north section of the enclosure there is a single highly weathered pillar (Long-stone DR1), which is centered between the north and south walls. This four-sided grayish pillar (1.3 m [height] by 80 cm [basal girth]) stands next to the inner edge of the west wall. In the south section of the enclosure there is a not well centered highly weathered tan tabular pillar (1.2 m by 1 m) (Long-stone DR2). It was erected next to the inner edge of the west wall. There are two smaller gray pillars (Long-stones DR3, DR4) 60 cm in height, which were planted against the inner edge of the south wall, near the west end of the enclosure. There are also three broken pillars (Long-stones DR5, DR6, DR7) that were erected within the cobble courses of the south wall. Another broken pillar (Long-stone DR8) was raised inside the south wall near the east end of the enclosure. It appears that yet another small specimen was erected within the courses of the central bisecting wall of the enclosure. The erection of standing stones inside the wall courses is a highly unusual morphological feature of the ChunakChu nag site. By virtue of their presence among scores of superficial enclosures, the walled pillars must have fulfilled an extremely important funerary ritual role at ChunakChu nag. The location of the walled pillars at the eastern extremity of the site is also liable to have significant ritual and cognitive undertones.


Approximately 50 m west of the walled pillars there is large quadrate tumulus (bangsobang so) (09.796΄ / 39.008΄). This tumulus is roughly aligned in the cardinal directions, and measures 17.8 m (north-south) by 15 m (east-west). This flat-topped structure varies between 2 m and 3 m in height. The surface of the mound is covered in loose cobbles; whatever coherent walls there were have completely disintegrated. On the top of the tumulus there are three cobble-filled depressions up to 1 m in depth. They appear to be the result of excavations carried out long ago. The looting of the contents is likely to be the only motive for such excavations in pre-modern times.

On the east side of the tumulus, at its base, there is a large interconnected rectangular enclosure that measures 22 m (north-south) by 8 m (east-west). It is elevated about 50 cm above the surrounding plain. This enclosure is comprised of walls such as are found in other enclosures of ChunakChu nag. The appended enclosure appears to have been subdivided into three east-west sections: south (6 m wide north-south), central (8.5 m wide) and north 6.5 m (wide). The occurrence of enclosures at the base of a large bangsobang so is also met with at Darlung GyangroDar lung gyang ro (D-88). These two tumuli more or less circumscribe the eastern and western margins of the core Upper Tibetan paleocultural entity; that region in which walled pillars (II.1b) and pillar arrays appended to edifices (II.1c) are distributed. The tumulus of ChunakChu nag appears to have been a central monumental feature of the site. In sites where there is a large bangsobang so it often is found amid smaller and more superficial funerary structures. These large bangsobang so are probably the burial sites of very high status individuals and/or where collective mortuary rites took place. In any case, it would appear that they constituted the ritual and monumental heart of many necropoli.

Clusters of enclosures

The superficial enclosures are mainly square and rectangular in form but there are also some sub-rectangular examples among them. They range between 3 m by 5 m to 15 m by 16 m in size. The perimeter walls (50 cm to 1 m thick) are composed of different colored (tan, red, gray, and beige) cobbles, which are between 10 cm and 35 cm in length. Many of the extant walls are generally aligned in the cardinal directions. The cobble perimeter walls are double-course or multiple-course in make-up. These walls are typically flush with the ground surface. There are also what appear to be heaped-stone walls 20 cm to 50 in height. In a few enclosures, these elevated wall sections reach 1 m in height. Rather than an inherent design feature, this piling of stones is probably due to the disintegration of neatly built walls, which were more than 1 vertical course in height. In all but a few cases, the area inside the perimeter walls of each enclosure is free of structural elements. There are also a few outlying structures of smaller proportions that are fully covered in stones embedded in the ground surface. The enclosures are interconnected to form clusters or networks of structures. The design and construction of these enclosures most resembles those of Drak TsangpoBrag gtsang po (D-41), a site not too far away from ChunakChu nag. Many of the walls of the enclosures have been destroyed and many have depressions inside. These depressions are probably the result of excavations carried out long ago and possibly due to subsidence as well.

Main cluster of enclosures

The main cluster of enclosures begins 24 m west of the large tumulus. This long swath of interconnected enclosures has two obvious breaks, creating three different sectors. Small amounts of white quartz are scattered around the main cluster of enclosures. These pieces of stones may have embellished the structures but in what form is unknown.

The north sector (63 m by 23 m) has a north-south axis. It contains around 30 enclosures, measuring between 2 m by 5 m and 7 m by 10 m. The north end of the north sector is at 09.963΄ / 38.931΄.

The central sector of enclosures begins 40 m south of the north sector. It measures 380 m by 40 m to 60 m and covers some 13,000 m². The central sector contains about 200 enclosures ranging in size up to 16 m by 15 m. In a few places there are small gaps between the groups of enclosures. The northern half of the central sector has a north-south axis, but further south the axis bends to the east. At the northwest corner of the central sector, a large enclosure (16 m by 15 m) contains a smaller enclosure (6 m by 7 m) inside its perimeter walls.

There is a gap of 8 m between the central and south sectors. The south sector measures 88 m by 25 m and terminates near the ChunakChu nag stream (09.669΄ / 39.035΄). This cluster has an east-west axis. The south sector contains perhaps 25 enclosures. In proximity to the south sector there are approximately 15 smaller enclosures aggregated in little groupings. Beginning about 200 m west of the south sector there is another cluster containing about 23 enclosures distributed over a fairly large area.

Upper cluster of enclosures

To the west of the flat in which the main cluster of enclosures is located there is a bench about 30 m higher in elevation. On this bench is the upper cluster of enclosures (09.938΄ / 38.708΄). The principal upper cluster measures 67 m (north-south) by 30 m (east-west), and contains about 20 enclosures of the kind found elsewhere at ChunakChu nag. Many of the perimeter walls have been destroyed and depressions, up to 1.5 m in depth, pockmark the interiors of quite a few enclosures. These depressions are likely to be the remains of excavations carried out long ago (dramagra ma grows on some of the depressions). A cluster of around ten enclosures is located 27 m south of the principal upper cluster. This smaller site was very heavily disturbed in the past.

On the southern tip of the bench there are three more enclosures, which have been partially destroyed by the failure of the slope. On the flat, between the main cluster and upper cluster, there are at least four more enclosures of the type found all over ChunakChu nag.


[185] For a survey of Khyunglung Ngül KharKhyung lung dngul mkhar see Bellezza, Antiquities of Upper Tibet, 37–43; John Vincent Bellezza, “Territorial Characteristics of the Archaic Zhang-zhung Paleocultural Entity: A Comparative Analysis of Archaeological Evidence and Popular Bon Literary Sources.” Paper prepared for the International Association of Tibetan Studies Conference X, Oxford, 2003. Currently in press. I was first informed about ChunakChu nag by the late Tendzin WangdrakBstan ’dzin dbang grags (who was the seniormost BönBon lama in NgariMnga’ ris) and other monks of Guru GyamGu ru gyam monastery some years before the actual survey took place. Members of my survey team passed on information about ChunakChu nag to Hui Wei and Li Yongxian, archaeologists at Sichuan University, who conducted a detailed survey of the site in 2005. Their findings were presented at the 11th International Association of Tibetan Studies conference in Bonn.

Note Citation for Page

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

Bibliographic Citation

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