The Dawn of Tibet: The Ancient Civilization on the Roof of the World

The Dawn of Tibet: The Ancient Civilization on the Roof of the World

John Vincent Bellezza

Language: English

Pages: 362

ISBN: 144223461X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


This unique book reveals the existence of an advanced civilization where none was known before, presenting an entirely new perspective on the culture and history of Tibet. In his groundbreaking study of an epic period in Tibet few people even knew existed, John Vincent Bellezza details the discovery of an ancient people on the most desolate reaches of the Tibetan plateau, revolutionizing our ideas about who Tibetans really are. While many associate Tibet with Buddhism, it was also once a land of warriors and chariots, whose burials included megalithic arrays and golden masks. This first Tibetan civilization, known as Zhang Zhung, was a cosmopolitan one with links extending across Eurasia, bringing it in line with many of the major cultural innovations of the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age.

Based on decades of research, The Dawn of Tibet draws on a rich trove of archaeological, textual, and ethnographic materials collected and analyzed by the author. Bellezza describes the vast network of castles, temples, megaliths, necropolises, and rock art established on the highest and now depopulated part of the Tibetan plateau. He relates literary tales of priests and priestesses, horned deities, and the celestial afterlife to the actual archaeological evidence, providing a fascinating perspective on the origins and development of civilization. The story builds to the present by following the colorful culture of the herders of Upper Tibet, an ancient people whose way of life is endangered by modern development. Tracing Bellezza’s epic journeys across lands where few Westerners have ventured, this book provides a compelling window into the most inaccessible reaches of Tibet and a civilization that flourished long before Buddhism took root.

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holds for the hands and feet. It was a precarious undertaking using a tape measure on crumbling stone walls along the edges of precipices. There was no room for error or misjudgment. Year after year, the survey work required the Tibetan crews and me to operate within the narrowest of margins. There was no phone to call for help, no one waiting at base camp for support, no travel insurance, no luxury hotel at the end of the long journey. But the exquisite natural beauty of the Tibetan upland, the

clothing, and wool for textiles and cordage. They collect salt from lakeshores, forage for medicinal plants in meadows, and grub for therapeutic minerals. Before the advent of Chinese Communist rule, drokpas were self-sufficient in most of their daily needs. In this regard, their lives have not changed very much to the present day. Traditionally, drokpas trade their butter, meat, wool, hides, salt, and other produce for artisanal goods and, most importantly, to procure grain. A symbiotic

possible, to the detriment of schooling and other organized activities. This did not augur well for success in life, at least in any conventional sense. Sometimes I pretended to be wandering around Tibet and the Himalaya in pursuit of archaeological wonders, a foretaste of what was to be. My efforts to revive Zhang Zhung for all to see were built upon the hard work of the adventurers, scientists, and historians who came before me. An earlier generation of explorers such as the Italian Giuseppe

islands, the Chinese have gone on to explore virtually all of Tibet. They have compiled extremely detailed topographic maps and place-name gazetteers, a hugely important contribution to the study of Tibet. It was the Chinese who first introduced modern archaeological methodologies in Tibet. In 1976, an expedition launched by the Chinese Academy of Sciences collected Stone Age tools in several regions of Upper Tibet.4 These discoveries helped push back the origins of man on the Tibetan Plateau to

reincarnation. For the inhabitants of pre-Buddhist Upper Tibet, death was the threshold to a parallel existence of alter egos. Counterpoised by the world of the living, the world of the dead was the realm of the divine ancestors. The ritual activities carried out at the menhirs served to bridge these two existential spheres. There are two common types of pillar monuments in Upper Tibet: pillars erected inside masonry enclosures and pillars standing in rows next 139 14_139-Bellezza.indb 139

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