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

Alhé Möndur’A lhas mon dur

Basic site data

  • Site name: Alhé Möndur’A lhas mon dur
  • Site number: E-30
  • Site typology: II.3
  • Elevation: 5070 m to 5130 m
  • Administrative location (township): Götsang TöRgod tshang stod
  • Administrative location (county): GarSgar
  • Survey expedition: TUE
  • Survey date: September 17, 2005
  • Contemporary usage: None.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: A single inscribed plaque.
  • Maps: UTRS V
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Sites Images

General site characteristics

Alhé Möndur’A lhas mon dur is located on the southern end of a ridge system that divides the two main valley systems of GötsangRgod tshang. The summit portion of this ridgeline site rises 270 m above the river that flows around its south side. The summit and upper flanks of the site are cloaked in red and beige talus (of volcanic origins?). Alhé Möndur’A lhas mon dur enjoys expansive eastern and western vistas. There are somewhat lesser views to the south, and to the north, higher sections of the same ridge system block the view. The cubic tombs of Alhé Möndur’A lhas mon dur are mostly aligned in the cardinal directions. They are each constructed of thick slabs up to 90 cm in length. Many of these tombs were built on top of small rock outcrops. The majority of the tombs form a single line of structures on the narrow east-west oriented ridgeback. There is also a slab-wall enclosure among the cubic tombs of Alhé Möndur’A lhas mon dur.

Oral tradition

According to local sources, Alhé Möndur’A lhas mon dur is associated with the ancient MönMon.

Site elements

Funerary Structure FS1

Funerary structure FS1 (3.1 m by 2 m) is situated on a shelf, lightly blanketed with talus. It is located below the summit ridge, on the northwest side of the hill. This highly degraded cubic tomb has been reduced to 1 m or less in height. Only small coherent wall fragments have endured. A depression in the top of the structure coincides with the location of the central chamber (reliquary). Approximately 40 m west of FS1 there is possibly another cubic tomb but the remains are so degraded as to be inconclusive.

Funerary structures FS2 to FS12 are situated on the summit of the ridge.

Funerary Structure FS2

Funerary structure FS2 is the most easterly specimen on the summit. Reduced to its base, FS2 measures 1.6 m (north-south) by 2.5 m (east-west). Some of the stones of this cubic tomb were used to construct an adjacent wall with a much more recent pedigree.

Funerary Structure FS3

Funerary structure FS3 (2.8 m [north-south] by 2.4 m [east-west] by 1.2 m [maximum height]) is situated 18 m west of FS2. The central chamber has been gutted and the south side of the tomb has collapsed.

Funerary Structure FS4

Funerary structure FS4 (2.5 m by 3.4 m by 1.7 m [height]) is situated 10 m west of FS3. Like the outer shell itself, the partly intact central chamber (95 cm by 80 cm) is aligned in the cardinal directions. The south side of FS4 has mostly collapsed. An old plaque inscribed with Buddhist prayers rests on this tomb.

Funerary Structure FS5

Funerary structure FS5 (3.1 m by 2.5 m by 1.4 m) is situated 5.4 m west of FS4. There is a gaping cavity (1 m by 70 cm) that extends all the way to ground level where the central chamber once sat. The masonry that lined the central chamber is entirely missing.

Funerary Structure FS6

Funerary structure FS6 (2.3 m by 2.6 m by 1.2 m) is situated 7 m west of FS5. The partly intact central chamber (90 cm by 80 cm) is mostly filled with stones.

Funerary Structure FS7

Funerary structure FS7 (1.9 m by 1.2 m by 1.2 m) is situated 13.5 m west of FS6. It is found just below the summit on the south side of the mountain. The central chamber is aligned in the cardinal directions, and measures 80 cm (east-west) by 40 cm (north-south). The alignment of the central chamber and the ridgeline upon which it was built may suggest that regeneration and the journey to the afterlife were envisioned as processes akin to the rising and setting sun.

Funerary Structure FS8

Funerary structure FS8 (1.5 m by 1.7 m by) is situated less than 1 m down slope of FS7. Largely leveled to its foundation, the base of the central chamber is still visible.

Funerary Structure FS9

Funerary structure FS9 (1.6 m by 1.5 m by 90 cm) sits on the summit and is situated 22 m southwest of FS8. It is aligned in the cardinal directions. Between FS8 and FS9, there is an enclosure (4 m by 13 m) on the summit with walls around 50 cm in height. These walls are composed of stacked slabs and slabs that were propped up. This enclosure appears to have had some type of funerary ritual function.

Funerary Structure FS10

Funerary structure FS10 (2 m by 2.5 m by 80 cm) is situated 5.2 m west of FS9. This tomb has largely collapsed.

Funerary Structure FS11

Funerary structure FS11 (1.8 m by 1.8 m) is situated just below the summit, 11.8 m southwest of FS10. It is found on the south side of the ridge. FS11 has been leveled to its foundation.

Funerary Structure FS12

Funerary structure FS12 (1.8 m by 1.9 m) is situated on the west edge of the summit, 9 m west of FS11. Although it has been reduced to its foundation, the base of the central chamber is partly intact. In close proximity, there is a small cairn standing on the edge of the summit.

Funerary Structure FS13

Funerary structure FS13 (2.2m by 2.4 m by 70 cm) is situated on the sloping ridgeback, 14 m southwest of FS12. It is located approximately 7 m below the summit.

Funerary Structure FS14

Funerary structure FS14 (2.3 m by 2.3 m by 70 cm) is situated 6.5 m down the spine of the ridge from FS13. FS14 is found about 2 m vertical below FS13. Most of the base of the tomb has endured. It is aligned in the cardinal directions.

Funerary Structure FS15

Funerary structure FS15 (2 m by 3.5 m) is situated on the ridgeline, 47 m west of FS14. There is an approximately 20 m vertical difference between FS14 and FS15. FS15 has been almost leveled.

Funerary Structure FS16

Funerary structure FS16 (2.3 m by 2.5 m by 2 m) is situated 6 m west of FS15 at the same elevation. The central chamber (90 cm by 70 cm) is partly intact in this relatively well preserved cubic tomb.

Funerary Structure FS17

Funerary structure FS17 (2.5 m by 3.3 m by 70 cm) is situated 14 m northwest of FS16 and about 6 m vertical directly below it (52.998΄ / 44.843΄ / 5100 m). This heavily damaged specimen is the most westerly of the cubic tombs of Alhé Möndur’A lhas mon dur.

Affiliated sites

Changla TakCang la btags

Changla TakCang la btags is said to be a very deep and extensive limestone cave complex located in Götsang TöRgod tshang stod (32° 07.580΄ N. lat. / 80° 46.919΄ E. long. / 4740 m). The narrow mouth to the cave is found on a steep limestone slope and it has an eastern aspect. From the entrance, a ledge circumvents a sink hole. About 20 m to 40 m from the mouth of the cave there are human bone fragments scattered about the cave. These probably represent the remains of coherent burials that have been disturbed by people entering Changla TakCang la btags. The cave complex was penetrated to a distance of about 150 m from the entrance through narrow passages and vertical tunnels with no other objects of archaeological interest being detected.

A large fragment of a human tibia removed from the cave floor was submitted for radiocarbon analysis. This sample yielded the following chronological data:

AMS, sample no. Beta-255675; conventional radiocarbon Age: 1610 +/-40 BP; 2 Sigma calibrated result (95% probability): cal 380 to 550 CE; intercept of radiocarbon age with calibration curve: Cal 420 CE; 1 Sigma calibrated result (68% probability): cal 410 to 450 CE.

As these chronometric results indicate, at least a portion of the Changla TakCang la btags burial most probably dates to the fifth century CE. This geographically, if not culturally, corroborates an ancient Chinese literary account that cave burials were practiced in Zhang ZhungZhang zhung. The T’ang Annals note that in Zhang ZhungZhang zhung (Yang t’ung), on a day determined by divination to be propitious, a corpse was deposited in a secret cave or inaccessible place.226

There is no reason to believe that the Changla TakCang la btags cave burial was unique and we might expect that more will be discovered in Tibet over time.

Directly below Changla TakCang la btags there is a quadrate structure locally identified as a “möndurmon dur” (07.500΄ / 46.917΄ / 4550 m). This platform-like structure (2.9 m by 3.7 m) is built of unhewn limestone blocks, a maximum of 90 cm in length. There are up to three vertical courses of blocks making up the structure, and it has a maximum height of 80 cm. There is a similar, but less well preserved structure situated, 22 m downhill.


[226] S. W. Bushell, “The Early History of Tibet. From Chinese Sources,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 12 (1880): 527 n. 9.

Note Citation for Page

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

Bibliographic Citation

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