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

Gyamchung MöndurGyam chung mon dur

Basic site data

  • Site name: Gyamchung MöndurGyam chung mon dur
  • English equivalent: Small Cliff Shelter MönMon Tombs
  • Site number: E-16
  • Site typology: II.3, II.2e
  • Elevation: 4480 m to 4650 m
  • Administrative location (township): RawangRa bang
  • Administrative location (county): RutokRu thog
  • Survey expedition: UTAE
  • Survey date: May 27, 2001
  • Contemporary usage: Light grazing.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS I, HAS A1
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Sites Images

General site characteristics

Gyamchung MöndurGyam chung mon dur, a wide-ranging network of funerary and possibly other types of structures, is located at the base and along the slopes of a ridge system known as GyamchungGyam chung. This large site spans 170 m vertical. At the lower end of GyamchungGyam chung there is a corral of the local seasonal drokpa’brog pa encampment. Gyamchung MöndurGyam chung mon dur consists of four or five cubic tombs and more than 20 walls, forming terraces along steep slopes and the edges of cliffs. The terraced structures have forward walls with significant elevations, while their rear walls are usually flush with the uphill slope. Most of these structures have a width of 1 m or less. The function of the terraced constructions is enigmatic. They appear to have had a funerary ritual function rather than a defensive role as ramparts, but this remains to be proven. In any case, ramparts have not been found with cubic tombs at any other site in western Tibet. All the cubic tombs and terraced constructions of GyamchungGyam chung have eastern and southern exposures. They were built with random-rubble, dry-stone walls. Variable-length slabs (20 cm to 90 cm) and blocky stones went into their construction. A grayish (metamorphic?) rock with a well-developed reddish brown varnish was used to build the structures of the site.

Oral tradition

According to some local sources, Gyamchung MöndurGyam chung mon dur is an ancient MönMon funerary site.

Site elements

Base of the ridge

Funerary structures FS1 to FS5 were constructed in a steeply inclined narrow valley. Some of these specimens appear to have been terraced structures with relatively tall, fully exposed forward walls and side walls that progressively disappear into the ground in an uphill direction. The rear of these structures appears to have been fully buried:

  1. Funerary structure FS1 (2.6 m by 2.6 m) has been reduced to a fragmentary foundation with a depression in the middle (33° 04.227΄ / 80° 25.404΄ / 4480 m).
  2. Funerary structure FS2 is located several meters from FS1 (04.231΄ / 25.401΄ / 4480 m). It consists of just remnants of a single wall.
  3. Funerary structures FS3 and FS4 are adjacent specimens with a total length of 5 m (04.263 / 25.379 / 4500 m). The forward wall of these structures is 1 m in height. As they have been engulfed by the slope, the width of the structures is not clear. In close proximity there are faint traces of other walls.
  4. Funerary structure FS5: only faint traces of this terraced structure remain (04.269΄ / 25.376΄ / 4510 m).
Lower ridge

This group includes both cubic tombs (length by width by maximum height) and terraced constructions:

  1. Funerary structure FS6 (2 m by 2 m by 60 cm [height]) is situated on an outcrop suspended above the head of the valley (04.279΄ / 25.347΄ / 4530 m). This cubic tomb is composed of slabs, 20 cm to 80 cm in length. Its central depository (reliquary) is partially intact.
  2. Funerary structure FS7, a cubic tomb, of which less than half is intact, is situated a little higher than FS6 (04.281΄ / 25.339΄ / 4530 m).
  3. Funerary structure FS8 is a terraced construction (4.7 m by 2.4 m [height]) built along the edge of a cliff (04.276΄ / 25.320΄ / 4540 m). It is not clear how much of the structure is submerged below the ground.
  4. Funerary structure FS9 is located on the same spine of rock as FS8, but at a slightly lower elevation (04.277΄ / 25.333΄ / 4540 m). It was built upon a notch in the formation. This probable cubic tomb has been reduced to its foundation.

Funerary structures FS10 to FS14 form a horizontal line of terraced structures:

  1. Funerary structure FS10 is located on a parallel rocky spine (04.304΄ / 25.329΄ / 4540 m). Exceedingly little of this terraced structure has endured. In close proximity, there are other wall fragments.
  2. Funerary structure FS11 was constructed into the slope a few meters from FS10 (04.302΄ / 25.331΄ / 4540 m). Only scant remains are visible. The forward wall of this structure is up to 1 m in height.
  3. Funerary structure FS12, a small construction, has the same aspect as FS11 (04.302΄ / 25.330΄ / 4540 m). Its forward wall is up to 70 cm in height. Between FS11 and FS12, there are the faint traces of an analogous structure.
  4. Funerary structure FS13 shares the same slope contour as FS11 and FS12 (04.298΄ /25.328΄ / 4540 m). The forward wall of this structure has a maximum height of 1.4 m.
  5. Funerary structure FS14 has a forward wall up to 1 m in height (04.287΄ / 25.317΄ / 4550 m).
Middle ridge
  1. Funerary structures FS15 to FS19 are terraced constructions possessing the same design and aspect as the lower ridge group.
  2. Funerary structure FS15 (6 m by 50 cm [height]) is built on the edge of a narrow ledge (04.292΄ / 25.301΄ / 4590 m).
  3. Funerary structure FS16 (3.4 m by 1.5 m) is situated on a ledge a few meters from FS15 (04.288΄ / 25.291΄ / 4600 m).
  4. Funerary structure FS17 (1.7 m by 1.7 m) is located higher up the steep slopes of the ridge (04.301΄ / 25. 285΄ / 4620 m).
  5. Funerary structure FS18 has been reduced to a small remnant (1 m by 1.2 m), occupying the same contour of the slope as FS17 (04.299΄ / 25.277΄ / 4620 m).
  6. Funerary structure FS19 (5.7 m by 1.4 m) is situated a few meters from FS18 (04.292 / 25.272 / 4620 m).
Upper ridge
  1. Funerary structures FS20 to FS25 are analogous terraced structures.
  2. Funerary structure FS20 (2.2 m by 70 cm [height]) was built into a cliff situated higher up on the ridge (04.314΄ / 25.274΄ / 4640 m).
  3. Funerary structure FS21 consists of three wall segments, located on the same cliff edge as FS20 (04.315΄ / 25.267΄ / 4640 m). These three wall segments span 3 m. It is not clear if they originally formed one integral unit or if they were built with gaps between them. The maximum height of the forward faces of these structures is between 1.1 m and 1.9 m. Their maximum width is 1.5 m.
  4. Funerary structure FS22 (11 m by 1.3 m) is broken into two parts, and is situated a few meters from FS21 on the same cliff edge (04.306΄ / 25,250΄ / 4640 m).
  5. Funerary structure FS23 is the highest structure (11 m by 1 m) at Gyamchung MöndurGyam chung mon dur (04.314΄ / 25.247΄ / 4650 m). It is broken into two parts and has a maximum width of 2 m. Unlike the other terraced constructions, its uphill wall is also elevated above the slope (60 cm in height). It is 300 m vertical to the valley floor from this point. Above FS23 the rocky ridge falls away before climbing to even greater heights.
  6. Funerary structure FS24 (1.7 m by 60 cm) (04.313΄ / 25.233΄ / 4630 m).
  7. Funerary structure FS25 (3.5 m by minimal height) (04.302΄ / 25.253΄ / 4630 m).
Cubic tombs

Funerary structure FS26 is a cubic tomb of conventional construction prominently situated on the top of a level rocky outcrop (04.253΄ / 25. 286΄ / 4580 m). The structure (2.8 m by 2 m by 1.3 m) is quite closely aligned in the cardinal directions. On the top of the more intact east side of the tomb there are stone chips. These chips may have been part of the original capping structure overlying the central depository. The partially intact, rectangular chamber is 60 cm wide. Variable sized slabs (up to 70 cm long) went into the construction of FS26. Some tens of meters to the south are FS15 and FS16.

Funerary structure FS27, another cubic tomb, is situated lower, in a notch in the ridge-top (04.191΄ / 25.295΄ / 4500 m). This conspicuously placed tomb measures 2.5 m by 2 m by 70 cm. The central depository is largely intact and is aligned in the cardinal directions (like the entire structure itself). The central depository measures 50 cm (north-south) by 90 cm (east-west) and has a maximum depth of 40 cm (but it is partially filled with rubble). On the west side of the central depository, several stones form overlapping vertical courses.

Large enclosure

In a sloping valley, west of the structure-studded ridge, there is a relatively large construction, divided by a partition wall into two equal halves (04.064΄ / 25.276΄ / 4420 m). Measuring 6 m (lateral walls) by 16 m (walls parallel to the axis of the slope), it could not be determined whether this was a residential or ceremonial ruin. It is built on a rocky slope with an approximate 10° gradient. Much of the structure is set well below ground level. While the uphill wall is relatively well preserved (consists of several vertical courses of masonry), the other walls have lost their coherence. Stones primarily 25 cm to 50 cm in length went into the construction of this structure.


Note Citation for Page

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

Bibliographic Citation

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