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.2. Superficial structures: Primarily funerary superstructure

Tara MönraRta ra mon ra

Basic site data

  • Site name: Tara MönraRta ra mon ra and Gyado MönraRgya rdo mon ra
  • English equivalent: Horse Corral MönMon Enclosures
  • Site number: D-105
  • Site typology: II.2b, II.2c
  • Elevation: 4720 m to 4740 m
  • Administrative location (township): LatöLa stod
  • Administrative location (county): NyimaNyi ma
  • Survey expedition: HTWE
  • Survey date: June 8, 2004
  • Contemporary usage: Light grazing.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS VIII, HAS B1
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Sites Images

General site characteristics

Tara MönraRta ra mon ra and Gyado MönraRgya rdo mon ra are adjacent sites, located on the west side of the Pundri TsangpoPhu ’bri gtsang po/Putö TsangpoSpu stod gtsang po valley, the most important pastoral center in the Latö LhomaLa stod lho ma region. These two funerary sites are located on rocky slopes that abut the moist valley floor. They have a wide eastern vista. From GyadoRgya rdo there are views of the TagoRta rgo range. The sites consist of a minimum of 13 loci each with one or more heavily eroded funerary enclosures. Many of these loci are comprised of one larger structure and one or more smaller satellite structures, most, or all of which, appear to be funerary in function. A significant number of enclosures appear to have been designed with openings in their east wall. These ritual “portals” in the direction of the rising sun may have been envisioned as facilitating the passage of the deceased to the afterlife. Alternatively, they may possibly have been built to facilitate communications between the deceased and the living during the burial rites. These enclosures were built with uncut blue, gray and brown metamorphic rocks of variable length. Given the large size of the site and the rocky terrain, it is possible that there are funerary structures not accounted for in this survey.

Oral tradition

According to local sources, Tara MönraRta ra mon ra and Gyado MönraRgya rdo mon ra are structures built by the ancient MönMon. Some of these structures are thought to have fulfilled pastoral functions. While this does not appear very likely, the utilitarian usage of some enclosures in the ancient pastoral economy cannot be ruled out. In any event, their design and layout may have been inspired by the herding way of life, and made to imitate its familiar structures (tent rings, corrals, shelters, etc.). Just northwest of Gyado MönraRgya rdo mon ra there is a small side valley called Drenkhyer’Dre ’khyer (Carried Away By Demons). It is said that a betrothed girl who was on her way to meet the groom’s party was abducted by dré’Dre demons in this valley. This tale in an oblique fashion seems to acknowledge the ancient funerary status of the area.

Site elements

Tara MönraRta ra mon ra
Funerary Structure FS1

Funerary structure FS1 is situated on the foot of a rocky spur that divides the TaraRta ra locale from Mönra YarkéMon ra yar rked (D-24) (31° 16.063΄ N. lat. / 86° 23.038΄ E. long. / 4730 m). It consists of six large stones (up to 80 cm long) that form part of a rectangular enclosure. There may be the traces of funerary structures on either side of this enclosure remnant. A modern wall built around the edge of a nearby pasture may have been the recipient of stones extracted from FS1 and companion structures. North of TaraRta ra there are the roots of long walls running parallel and perpendicular to the slope. Their age and function are unknown. Possibly, they were part of the necropolis.

Gyado MönraRgya rdo mon ra South

Gyado MönraRgya rdo mon ra South is located on rocky slopes just north of TaraRta ra (4730 m).

Funerary Structure FS1

Funerary structure FS1 consists of three funerary enclosures in close proximity to one another. FS1A (5 m by 6 m) is the southernmost specimen. It may have had rudimentary double-course walls (70 cm thick). The downhill side of this structure is elevated about 50 cm above the slope and the uphill side is even with the slope. FS1B, the middle specimen, is situated 15 m north of FS1A. The superficial perimeter walls of this ovoid enclosure are highly fragmentary. They may also have had a crude double-course composition. FS1C (13 m by 15 m), an irregularly shaped enclosure, is situated just to the north of FS1B. The disordered perimeter walls are depressed 50 cm on the west side while they are elevated 1 m on the east side, in order to create a fairly level interior.

Funerary Structure FS2

Funerary structure FS2 (11 m by 16 m) is a sub-rectangular enclosure. This heaped-stone wall enclosure has stones piled along the perimeter to a height of 70 cm. Its uphill side is depressed while its downhill side is elevated, as are almost all the larger enclosures of Gyado MönraRgya rdo mon ra. A single-course enclosure (4.8 m by 6.6 m) is situated 2.5 m to the east. Large stones (up to 80 cm long) that stick as much as 35 cm out of the ground were employed in the construction of this companion structure.

Gyado MönraRgya rdo mon ra North

Gyado MönraRgya rdo mon ra North is situated about one-half km farther north on broad, gently inclined rocky slopes (4740 m).

Funerary Structure FS1

Funerary structure FS1 (7.5 m by 8.4 m) is a fairly well preserved ovoid enclosure. There are double-course wall fragments (50 cm to 90 cm thick) that are primarily composed of blocks laid flat on the ground. However, there are also slab-wall segments in which individual stones project as much as 25 cm above ground level. Stones between 10 cm and 60 cm in length were used in the construction of FS1. The east wall is punctuated by a wedge-shaped opening 60 cm to 90 cm wide. The east side of this opening is demarcated by a stone 75 cm in length that is elevated 30 cm above ground level.

Funerary Structure FS2

Funerary structure FS2 (5 m by 5 m) is situated 26 m west of FS1. This round enclosure has walls whose design type could not be ascertained. The perimeter walls are 60 cm to 80 cm thick and composed of variable-length stones.

Funerary Structure FS3

Funerary structure FS3 is situated 19 m northeast of FS1. There are two distinctive cells in this enclosure with a combined length of 23 m. The heaped-stone wall perimeter is 30 cm to 1.2 m in height (depending on how high the stones are piled) and average around 1 m thick. The larger east cell measures 16 m by 13 m. The cells are partitioned by a swath of stones 1 m to 2 m in width. Immediately south of the large enclosure are two small stone rings, probably ancillary funerary structures of some kind.

Funerary Structure FS4

Funerary structure FS4 (28 m by 13 m) is situated 48 m east of FS1. The heaped-stone walls of this large rectangular enclosure have been severely degraded, not least of all by the construction of a now abandoned corral right on top of them. The corral is fully self-contained and appears to have used the walls of the old enclosure as a windbreak. The belief that an ancient corral stood here may have influenced the construction of the modern period livestock pen. There is an irregularly shaped enclosure (10.5 m by 15 m) 20 m to the south of the large enclosure. It has stones heaped up to 1 m high along the perimeter.

Funerary Structure FS5

Funerary structure FS5 (13 m by 14 m) is an irregularly shaped heaped-stone wall enclosure. Its rear wall is sunk 1 m below the uphill slope and its downhill wall elevated around 50 cm above the slope. The walls of FS5 are around 70 cm in thickness.

Funerary Structure FS6

Funerary structure FS6 (13 m by 18 m) is situated 4.5 m east of FS5. This sub-rectangular enclosure is subdivided into a north cell and a south cell.

Funerary Structure FS7

Funerary structure FS7 (8.3 m by 8.5 m) is situated 17 m north of FS6. There is a hint of a coherent double-course wall fragment on the north side of this sub-rectangular enclosure.

Funerary Structure FS8

Funerary structure FS8 (9 m by 13 m) is a degraded ovoid enclosure, which is difficult to distinguish from the surrounding rocky terrain.

Funerary Structure FS9

Funerary structure FS9 (20 m by 18 m) is situated at the northern extremity of Gyado MönraRgya rdo mon ra. This sub-rectangular enclosure is subdivided into two main cells. The perimeter walls are heavily impacted with earth. These heaped stone walls are up to 1 m in height and are 1 m to 1.5 m thick. There are breaks in the north and east walls of the north cell. There is also an opening in the east wall of the south cell. There is a small ovoid structure immediately to the south of the large enclosure, and three or four smaller enclosures to its west. Another ovoid enclosure (5 m across) is located 7 m south of the large enclosure. This ovoid enclosure has stones heaped up on its south side.

Affiliated sites

Mönra YarkéMon ra yar rked

During the HTWE, three funerary enclosures were detected at the Mönra YarkéMon ra yar rked sites (D-24), which were not surveyed in 2000. These structures are found north of DzongchenRdzong chen, the largest funerary structure in the area. Human skeletal remains found in cists underlying the heaped-stone wall complex of DzongchenRdzong chen have been dated to the imperial period.213 Mönra YarkéMon ra yar rked is situated on broad slopes on the “waist” (foot) of the ridge that encloses the west side of the Pundri TsangpoPhu ’bri gtsang po/Putö TsangpoSpu stod gtsang po valley. This large site is disbursed over a 3.5 km swath of rocky terrain.

Funerary Structure FSA

Funerary structure FSA is situated just north of DzongchenRdzong chen (31° 15.847΄ N. lat. / 86° 23.055΄ E. long. / 4720 m). Very little of this enclosure remains. It appears to have been ovoid in form, and measures around 9 m across.

Funerary Structure FSB

Funerary structure FSB (10 m by 9 m) is an ovoid enclosure with heaped and superficial perimeter walls. The superficial wall segments are comprised of slabs up to 75 cm in length that protrude slightly above the ground surface (to 15 cm in height). These walls do not appear to have been built with any particular order or arrangement. There is a 2.3 m gap in the east wall of funerary structure FSB, which appears to be an original design feature.

Funerary Structure FSC

Funerary structure FSC (20 m by 11 m) is an oblong enclosure with a pinched middle section, almost giving it the form of an hourglass. The constricted middle section of the enclosure measures 8 m across. FSC is situated near the foot of a steep rocky slope. Stones are heaped to a height of 50 cm along its perimeter. Possibly other wall traces are found immediately uphill of FSC.


[213] Bellezza, Zhang Zhung, 127, 128.

Note Citation for Page

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

Bibliographic Citation

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