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

SemodoSe mo do North

Basic site data

  • Site name: SemodoSe mo do North
  • Alternative site name: SinmodoSrin mo do North
  • Alternative site name 2: NangdoNang do North
  • English equivalent: Inner Island North
  • Site number: D-127
  • Site typology: II.2a, II.2b
  • Elevation: 4730
  • Administrative location (township): PochéSpo che
  • Administrative location (county): PelgönDpal mgon
  • Survey expedition: TILE
  • Survey date: February 14–16, 2006
  • Contemporary usage: Light grazing.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS IX, HAS D5
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Sites Images

General site characteristics

SemodoSe mo do North is located on the north side of SemodoSe mo do, a 3.5 km long island with a rugged limestone backbone. An alternative name for the island, NangdoNang do, reflects the privileged geomantic and strategic position of this highly insulated site. Another name, SinmodoSrin mo do, is related to the supposed occupation of the island by a semi-divine class of female beings known as sinmosrin mo. The site is found on a broad bench that forms between the shoreline and mountainous core of the island. SemodoSe mo do is surrounded on all sides by the profoundly deep waters of NamtsoGnam mtsho. Traditionally, it is usually accessed in the winter months when NamtsoGnam mtsho is frozen. In addition to archaic cultural residential structures and Buddhist retreat caves that housed famous lamas of the 8th to 13th century CE (see B-126 and B-127), there are nine enclosures on the north side of the island. These superficial and built-up structures have open interiors and appear to have a funerary function. They are constructed of uncut, variable-length (primarily 20 to 70 cm long) pieces of blue-gray limestone, which support orange climax lichen growths. These enclosures, at least superficially, resemble the so-called möndurmon dur of the core region of Upper Tibet located farther west.

The survey of SemodoSe mo do residential sites shows that this island reached the zenith of material cultural development in the archaic cultural horizon. The presence of ostensible funerary structures is liable to reflect this period of intensive occupation as an interrelated part of the monument assemblage and lifecycle of the island. The use of the north side of SemodoSe mo do for funerary purposes is probably related to the limited solar exposure of this side, which makes it inappropriate for habitation. The northern aspect of the site may also possibly be related to archaic Tibetan eschatological beliefs concerning a boreal afterlife.216

Oral tradition

Probably the most knowledgeable person alive regarding the oral tradition of SemodoSe mo do is a ngakpasngags pa named A TopA thob, who resides at Trashi DochungBkra shis do chung. He mostly learned about SemodoSe mo do from the late Lama ChödakBla ma chos bdag, a monk at GurchungGur chung monastery.

Site elements

Funerary Structure FS1

Funerary structure FS1 (3 m by 3 m) is a quadrate structure that is either the remains of a crude shelter or a funerary enclosure. The walls of this structure reach 1.3 m in height and are of rudimentary construction. Adjacent to this structure are the highly degraded remains of a sub-rectangular superficial enclosure. It appears to have a funerary identity and single-course perimeter walls. The two structures of S1 are situated on a broad point that overlooks NamtsoGnam mtsho.

Funerary Structure FS2

Funerary structure FS2 (4.8 m by 4 m) is a sub-rectangular double-course enclosure with an open interior. The superficial perimeter walls (60 cm thick) of this structure are composed of variable-length stones that were laid flat. These stones are flush with the ground surface or project above it to a maximum height of 30 cm. Just 70 cm to the north is a less well-preserved enclosure (4 m by 3 m) of the same design and construction. These enclosures occupy another portion of the long bench.

Funerary Structure FS3

Funerary structure FS3 (5.8 m by 3.8 m) is a sub-rectangular enclosure situated on the outer edge of the same bench. This poorly preserved structure may have had crudely constructed double-course perimeter walls. These walls now consist of just one layer of stones embedded in the ground, but perhaps they were more developed originally. In any case, many of these upright stones prominently project above the ground surface.

Funerary Structure FS4

Funerary structure FS4 (4.4 m by 4.7 m) is just half an enclosure. Its roughly built walls are up to 80 cm in height. The perimeter walls consist of larger stones stuck in the ground, upon which other stones were piled.

Funerary Structure FS5

Funerary structure FS5 is another enclosure with partially intact perimeter walls, which is situated on the outer edge of the bench.

Funerary Structure FS6

Funerary structure FS6 (9.3 m by 6 m) is a well built, rectangular enclosure situated at the base of the spine of the island. This structure was established on a moderately inclined slope, and is generally aligned in the cardinal directions. The perimeter walls of this enclosure appear to be of both an ordered and unordered style of construction. The west and south walls of the structure each incorporate a large boulder. The south/upper wall consists of a single line of stones that are level with or slightly protrude above ground level. The west wall is composed of small stones, many of which are only around 5 cm in length. The stones of the west wall appear to have been neatly stacked. This wall is around 50 cm in height and around 50 cm in thickness. Although not so much is left of it, the north wall also appears to have been comprised of stacked stones. The east wall of the enclosure is highly fragmentary. There are a few stray stones embedded inside the enclosure.

Funerary Structure FS7

Funerary structure FS7 (1.9 m by 2.2 m) is a small partially intact enclosure. The east wall of this structure is missing. S7 appears to have perimeter walls consisting of piled stones. These walls are 50 cm to 80 cm in height.


[216] See Bellezza, Zhang Zhung, 478, 479, 518, 519.

Note Citation for Page

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

Bibliographic Citation

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