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.3. Cubic mountaintop tombs

Endritsé MöndurAn ’bri rtse mon dur

Basic site data

  • Site name: Endritsé MöndurAn ’bri rtse mon dur (sp.?)
  • Alternative site name: Endridzi MöndurAn ’bri rdzi mon dur
  • Site number: E-11
  • Site typology: II.3
  • Elevation: 4980 m to 5100 m
  • Administrative location (township): Götsang TöRgod tshang stod
  • Administrative location (county): GarSgar
  • Survey expedition: UTAE
  • Survey date: May 18, 2001
  • Contemporary usage: Minimal religious devotions.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: A prayer flag mast.
  • Maps: UTRS V
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Sites Images

General site characteristics

Endritsé MöndurAn ’bri rtse mon dur is located on a 5100 m high mountain of the same name that rises 370 m out of a valley, a major feeder of the Tritso TsangpoKhri tsho gtsang po. In the vicinity of EndritséAn ’bri rtse there are the pastoral settlements of Rama GyamRa ma gyam and Gyé NgönpoGyad sngon po (sp?). The dark-colored EndritséAn ’bri rtse has a distinctive pyramidal form and stands alone, enjoying 360° views from the summit. It is a local female territorial deity (yüllhayul lha). There is only a small prayer flag mast on the summit, illustrating that this mountain is seldom visited. Still, it is unusual to have a mountain with tombs that is not completely ignored or demonized by the drokpa’brog pa. There are no less than 24 cubic tombs of standard construction (some are actually square while most are somewhat elongated). In addition to the tombs, there is a network of walls, walkways and pads made of the same dark-colored metamorphic rock, which is scattered across the higher reaches of EndritséAn ’bri rtse. The talus-strewn upper slopes provided ample building materials for the funerary complex. The chunks of talus used in the random-work constructions tend to be blocky.

Oral tradition

According to local drokpa’brog pa, Endritsé MöndurAn ’bri rtse mon dur consists of tombs of the ancient MönMon. According to one informant, EndritséAn ’bri rtse was the older yüllhayul lha of the region. The ancient sacred status of the mountain is clearly indicated by the presence of the funerary complex. The dominant contemporary yüllhayul lha is the male MagyungMa gyung (sp?), located on a mountain to the east in the range separating the two main river systems of Götsang TöRgod tshang stod. One local septuagenarian reports that MagyungMa gyung and EndritséAn ’bri rtse are husband and wife.

Site elements

Upper east and north slopes

On the upper eastern flank of the mountain there appear to be two or three cubic tombs that are so deteriorated they are barely recognizable from the field of talus. Above these tombs a dry-stone wall of talus encloses a walkway along the northeast flank of the EndritséAn ’bri rtse mountain just below the summit. In most places this wall is just a heaped line of loose stones circumscribing the steep slope. Approximately 10 m above the walkway there is another cubic tomb (2 m by 1.9 m). The maximum height of its downhill side is 1.2 m and that of its uphill side, 50 cm. Part of the central depository (reliquary) is intact; it appears to have been 80 cm long. A 1.1 m deep oval-shaped depression (3.3 m by 2.5 m) is found 20 m to the south of this cubic tomb. It appears to have an in situ corbel resting on its upslope rim. The function of this structure is unknown. If there were analogous structures in the vicinity, they have been reabsorbed into the talus slopes.

The walled path continues around to the north side of the mountain and disappears some meters below the summit. Above this upper length of the trail there is another cubic tomb. It is 2 m in length and up to 1 m in height. Its downhill side has been destroyed. At the same elevation, in close proximity, there is a walled level area. Above the cubic tomb there are two more walled terraces, interconnected by a wall. These walls, now nothing more than heaps of stones, are up to 80 cm high on their downhill sides. The level areas enclosed within measure around 3 m by 6 m. The function of these pads or terraces is enigmatic. Perhaps they were used as camping areas for those who built the tombs and conducted the burial rites. On the other hand, they may have had a ritual purpose. On the north side of the EndritséAn ’bri rtse mountain just below the summit, there are two more similarly-sized and constructed walled pads. There is another walled pad, 5 m higher in elevation and yet another 2 m above it, both of which are of similar size and dimensions. The forward walls of these four enclosures are flush with or only slightly elevated above the downhill slope, probably as a of result disintegration. There may be other such structures on the east and north slopes of EndritséAn ’bri rtse but time limitations precluded a more thorough combing of the mountainside.

The summit

The very summit of EndritséAn ’bri rtse appears to have once had a cubic tomb, but it has either disappeared with time or it has been incorporated into the base of the prayer flag mast. From this high point, the summit ridge drops in elevation towards the southwest. What appears to be the base of a cubic tomb is located on the narrow summit ridge. Beyond this point, the summit ridge narrows to less than 1 m in width in places with sheer drops on both sides. The summit ridge then widens again in the proximity of the base of another cubic tomb. The maximum height of this structure is 1 m (west side), 50 cm (south side) and level with the summit in the other directions. Its linear dimensions are unclear.

Continuing down the ridgeline, in a southwestern direction, three more cubic tombs are met with. In between them and the aforementioned specimen (at 5050 m), there is the probable base of a cubic tomb but the remains are too dissolute for a positive identification. The group of three tombs (5040 m) is partially interconnected by walls running between them. The highest specimen (Funerary structure FS1) in this group (1.8 m by 1.8 m by 1 m [height]) is situated on the ridge-top. A much more poorly preserved specimen (Funerary structure FS2) is located 4.5 m away, on the summit. From this second cubic tomb, a wall (24 m long, up to 1 m high) extends to the third specimen and then somewhat beyond it. A 6 m long wall also extends from FS1 in the direction of funerary structure FS3 (this wall was originally somewhat longer). These two interconnecting heaped-stone walls do not actually contact the tombs but run in close proximity to them. These walls enclose a small hollow in the ridge-top, in which the third tomb (FS3) of the group is located.

Funerary structure FS3, among the best preserved at EndritséAn ’bri rtse, measures 2.5 m by 2 m by 1.3 m, but it must have been somewhat taller when constructed. Fortunately, its rectangular central depository is intact (1 m by 60 cm by 50 cm). Stone courses lining this chamber taper inwards so that its top only measures 40 cm by 40 cm. The central depository could have been easily capped by a single stone. A good deal of the outer structure of the tomb not only surrounds the central depository but rises above it, creating a substantial encasement. A sodden piece of what ostensibly was part of a human skull and another piece of bone were discovered in the snow-covered central depository. When subjected to chronometric testing, the skull fragment (about the size of a silver dollar) yielded disappointing results.220

Continuing down the ridgeback there is a zone of isolated walls of the same design and construction. Just below these walls there is another cubic tomb. Measuring approximately 1.7 m by 1.7 m, this specimen has been reduced to less than 90 cm in height. Directly below it is the lowest cubic tomb on the summit ridge. Only the upslope half of this structure is intact (maximum height of 1.3 m).

Southwest shelf

Below the southwest extremity of the summit, the steep slopes of EndritséAn ’bri rtse fall away into the valley below. On the upper reaches of these slopes there is a natural talus-covered shelf that hosts a group of 13 cubic tombs. This shelf is 73 m long (east-west) by 17 m wide (north-south). The greatest concentration of tombs is on the somewhat higher east end of the shelf. Also on the east end are two enclosures (roughly 3 m by 4 m) that may be the remains of ancient shelters. The tombs of the southwest shelf have the following dimensions and characteristics:

  1. Funerary structure FS1 (2.3 m by 2.2 m by 1 m) is the most westerly specimen on the southwest shelf. The base of its central depository is intact.
  2. Funerary structure FS2 (1.7 m by 2.3 m by 1.1 m).
  3. Funerary structure FS3 (2.2 m by 1.6 m by 90 cm).
  4. Funerary structure FS4 (1.8 m by 2.4 m by 1.1 m) has its central depository partially intact.
  5. Funerary structure FS5 (1.7 m by 1.7 m by 60 cm) is highly deteriorated.
  6. Funerary structure FS6 (1.7 m by 2.1 m by 90 cm) has its central depository (1 m by 60 cm) partially intact.
  7. Funerary structure FS7 (2.5 m by 2 m by 1.1m) has the remains of its central depository filled with structural detritus.
  8. Funerary structure FS8 is adjacent to FS7. Almost no structural evidence remains.
  9. Funerary structure FS9 (2 m by 1.7 m) has just the base of the structure extant.
  10. Funerary structure FS10 has been leveled.
  11. Funerary structure FS11 (2 m by 2 m by 70 cm) has the base of its central depository visible.
  12. Funerary structure FS12 (2.5 m by 1.9 m by 1.3 m) has the base of its central depository intact.
  13. Funerary structure FS13 (1.6 m 1.5 m by 50 cm) is highly deteriorated.

Affiliated sites

sna leb

It is reported that, during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, farming was tried with disastrous consequences in a locale called NalepSna leb, located east of EndritséAn ’bri rtse. During plowing, stone cists containing human bones were discovered here. It is said that none of the burial sites have survived.


[220] The skull fragment from EndritséAn ’bri rtse site (FS3) underwent AMS analysis: sample no. Beta-200756; Conventional Radiocarbon age: 180 +/-40 BP. The recent age of the assayed specimen may possibly be explained by its deposition through happenstance or as part of an adventitious burial that relied on the pre-existing tomb. It is also possible that the exposed bone fragment was subject to infiltration by foreign organic substances biasing the test results. The chronology of the mountaintop cubic tomb typology is problematic and is discussed in Bellezza, Zhang Zhung, 139, 141.

Note Citation for Page

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

Bibliographic Citation

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