The archaeology discovery of finding the capital of Zhang Zhung Kingdom, but there is still controversy
Langqen Zangbo River Basin was the most important birthplace of ancient Tibetan civilization. The Zhang Zhung Kingdom and the Guge Kingdom in history had created splendid cultures centering on this area which was adjacent to the South Asian subcontinent and Central Asia, so it became a crossroad of civilization exchanges in ancient times
Since the 1920s and 1930s, foreign scholars represented by Italian Tibetan scholar Giaseppe · Tucci (1894 – 1984) began to conduct archaeological surveys in this area, but after entering the early 1950s, this Archaeological work in the area was basically at a standstill.
It was not until the late 1970s and early 1980s that Chinese scholars re-entered this area to carry out archaeological work. From 2004 to 2012, with the support of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage of China, several investigations and archaeological excavations were initiated on the cultural relics and historical sites of the Langqen Zangbo River Basin in Ngari prefecture, and significant progress had been made on the basis of previous work that to discover the legendary capital of the Zhang Zhung Kingdom — The Qionglong Silver City (Khyung lung Dngul mkhar).
Qionglong Silver City
The Tibetan language of Qionglong Silver City is “Khyung lung Dngul mkhar”
“Khyung” means Garuda (golden-winged bird),
“Lung” means “place”,
“Khyung lung” means the place where Garuda lives.
“Dngul” originally means silver, here its meaning is extended to silver,
“mkhar” means castle.
In short, Khyung lung Dngul mkhar was the “Garuda’s Silver City“.
In the belief of Bon religion of Zhang Zhung Kingdom, the Garuda of gold-winged bird was very worshipped, and the king of Zhang Zhung was also known as the “king of Garuda“, so the residence of the king of Zhang Zhung was named “Garuda Silver City“.
Where exactly Qionglong Silver City is, it has always been controversial.
Nowadays, through archaeological excavations, it is basically determined that the ruins of Qionglong Silver City is likely Qulong Ruins and Kaldong Ruins, which are about 10 kilometers apart.
Zhang Zhung Archaeology — Kaldong Ruins Excavations
Kaldong Ruins contains two parts: Kaldong Tombs and Kaldong Castle
Kaldong Castle is located on the top of Kaldong Mountain at an altitude of 4,400 meters, and the architectural remains are large, which exceeds 100,000 square meters. Here, a part of the city wall that was earlier than the existing city site was also found. It can be seen that the city site can be divided into at least two phases. From the perspective of construction materials and layer relationship, there was still a long period of residence before the construction of the castle. Therefore, this castle may be the earliest city site discovered in Tibet so far, and it is also one of the most well-preserved city sites with the richest cultural accumulation.
In 2012, a large-scale survey and excavation study of the site and its surrounding tombs found that this huge site not only contains stone-built houses, altars, and underpasses leading to the bottom of the mountain, but also unearthed millstones, Stone grinding pestle, iron triangle, iron armor piece, iron arrow cluster, and many other relics. Among them, a double-sided naked bronze figure was unearthed in a stone altar. The figure is strange in shape and has a hideous face. It is obviously not a Buddhism statue. It is speculated that it was probably made in accordance with the regulations of early Bon religion.
Kaldong Tomb is located in front of the ancient Gurujiang Monastery of Bon religion at the foot of the west side of Kaldong Mountain. One day in 2005, when a truck passed on the dirt road in front of the monastery, the road was crushed to reveal a large hole, and a corner of the mysterious Kaldong Tomb was opened since then. Afterwards, the monks of the monastery immediately carried out rescue excavations and collecting cultural relics. The excavated cultural relics indicate that the Kaldong Tomb is a densely distributed group of ancient tombs from the Zhang Zhung period
Large utensils made of bronze, golden masks, central Plains iron swords, and a large number of sacrificed animal bones have been excavated from Kaldong ancient tomb. And the burial relics include the inscription of “Prince”, fragments of silk with animal patterns, as well as a large number of fragments of plain brown silk, horseshoe-shaped wooden comb, rectangular wooden case, wooden nest, straw weaving, wood fire stick, bronze cauldron, bronze bowl, bronze ring handle Cups, bronze pans with wooden handles, gilded silver pieces, iron spears and other iron pieces, two-eared high-collar clay pots, ceramic goblet cups, etc. These unearthed cultural relics show extensive connections with the neighboring Zanda region, southern Xinjiang, northern India and even the Central Plains areas of China.
Kaldong tomb is a cavern tomb, buried deep under the silt of the river. It is a square tomb of 2 meters square built with stones, and with a built-in square box-type wooden coffin. The skeleton is well preserved, but the burial style cannot be verified. Some of them are covered with logs, which may have a certain inheritance relationship with this type of tombs during the Tubo period on the Tibet Plateau.
And a large number of horses, cows, and sheep bones were unearthed in each tomb, reflecting the prevalence of animal sacrifices and animal burial customs in the origin and center of primitive religion.
In addtion, the amount of earth excavated for the construction of the burial site and the collection, processing and transportation of the burial stone materials required a lot of manpower and material resources to complete. Then this area was likely to be the political, economic and cultural center of the time.
Zhang Zhung Archaeology Key Relic – Golden Mask
After the golden mask was unearthed in Kaldong Ancient Tomb, archaeologists also discovered a relatively complete golden mask in the Quta Tomb in Zanda County, about 170 kilometers away from Kaldong Tomb. Combined with fragments of golden masks unearthed from tombs in other areas of Ngari, the funerals of the Zhang Zhung nobles should be covered with gold mask. The custom of covering the face with a gold mask is not unique to China. This phenomenon has been found in Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
Zhang Zhung Archaeology Key Relic – Fragments of Brown Silk
The silk fragments unearthed from Kaldong ancient tomb is the earliest silk found on Tibet Plateau so far. The patterns of the silk fragments are very similar to the silk unearthed from the Astana Tomb in Turpan, and those are typical silk produced in the Chinese Han region.
After having those tested by Carbon-14, it shows that the age of the silk fragments unearthed from Kaldong tomb was in the 3rd or early 4th century, which is similar to the age of the silk unearthed in the Astana Tomb in Turpan.
The discovery of Kaldong tomb proved that as early as the time of Zhang Zhung Kingdom, there were roads connecting Ngari and southern Xinjiang and forming a transportation network with the ancient Silk Road, and as early as in the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD) and Jin Dynasty (AD 266-AD 420), Zhang Zhung Kingdom used this road net-work to have long-distance trade links with the Central Plains of Chinese through the Silk Road.
Zhang Zhung Archaeology — Qulong Ruins Excavations
Qulong Ruins, 10 kilometers away from the Kaldong Ruins, is located at a bend of Langqen Zangbo River. The entire mountain shape looks like a big bird with arms outstretched standing proudly.
From a high point of view, Qulong Ruins was built on the earthy mountain. The two wings of the mountain are steep and there are many caverns excavated, arranged in different sizes, and the murals in many caves are still clearly identifiable.
Qulong Ruins is about 1.3 kilometers long from east to west, and about 1.2 kilometers wide from north to south. There are approximately 45 houses, 105 courtyards, 29 sections of retaining walls, and 1 watching tower. In addition, there are 20 ancient pagodas and caves that have remained so far. There are more than 742 rooms, and a large number of stoneware, pottery, wood, iron and leather fabrics have been unearthed.
Although the architectural scale of Qulong Ruins is much smaller than that of the Kaldong Ruins, however, the surrounding topographic features are closer to the description of the capital of Zhang Zhung kingdom in the Bon Religoin’s Scriptures.
Qulong Ruins,Kaldong Ruins, which was the capital of Zhang Zhung kingdom?
So far, there is no sufficient evidence to prove that Qulong Ruins or the Kaldong Ruins was once the capital of the Xiangxiong Kingdom.
According to the description of the capital of Zhang Zhung Kingdom by Bon religion which was the state religion of Zhang Zhung Kingdom that the determination of the capital of Zhang Zhung Kingdom requires at least the following three conditions:
1. There is a mountain-shaped or terrain like Garuda bird;
2. It is the color of the mountain or the color of the ground like “silver”
3. There must be a city or a castle
Scholars who support Qulong Ruins as the capital of Zhang Zhung Kingdom believe that the site fully meets the above three conditions. However, scholars who oppose this point of view point out that although Qulong Ruins is more in line with the description of the literature in terms of geography and shape; But there is no early buildings or relics being found at this site which cannot prove this was the capital of Zhang Zhung Kingdom.
Kaldong Ruins has the conditions of a castle, but it doesn’t have the two conditions of a “Garuda bird”-like terrain and “silver” like color.
The important is that many relics of early times have been found in Kaldong ruins, meanwhile, there are huge castle-like buildings, huge foundation stone tombs, numerous residential areas and various sacrificial relics in the site, which all hint at its powerful function as a political, cultural, military, and rule center.
At the same time, the monks of Gurujiang Monastery firmly believe that the Kaldong ruins was the capital of Zhang Zhung. Although this point of view is not mainstream, but it has unexpectedly received limited support from archaeological investigations.
Views on which is the capital of Zhang Zhung Kingdom
At present, there is no final conclusion on which of the two sites was once the capital of Zhang Zhung Kingdom.
We can imagine that Zhang Zhung tribe first originated in the upper reaches of Langqen Zangbo River. Due to the low level of economic development and the limited ruling area, the palace might be firstly set up in the Qulong Basin. Because of the soil landforms that it was convenient to excavate a large number of cave dwellings and build simple castles. Perhaps the name of “Qionglong Silver City (Khyung lung Dngul mkhar)” had already appeared at this time.
With the gradual rise of Zhang Zhung tribe, it gradually unified the entire Tibetan area and established a strong tribal alliance. At this time, the Qulong River Valley seemed too small, and the transportation was inconvenient, so it moved to Kaldong which was 10 kilometers away and near the main road.
At this time, Zhang Zhung tribe already had a strong economic power and could build a large number of ground-based buildings, such as houses, temples, city walls, fortresses, etc. Therefore, Kaldong became a magnificent capital that was well-known.
Moreover, there is another important difference between the two sites that Qulong ruins is located on the cliffs, dominated by cave dwellings, and their buildings are mainly excavated. Kaldong ruins is located on the top of a hill, which was mainly built of earth and stone.
After the rise of the Zhang Zhung kingdom, the improvement of royal residences and the construction of high-grade houses must be the top priority; to build a majestic king city that is convenient for worshipping the mountain to show that its power comes from the gods, meanwhile the tall and magnificent castle shows the prosperity and glory of the kingdom.
So it could be likely that both Qulong Ruins and Kaldong Ruins were the capital of Zhang Zhung Kingdom, but in different period