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2,000-year-old tombs bear secrets of ancient Tibetan kingdom

Four tombs unearthed in Tibet are believed to contain relics from an ancient Tibetan kingdom that thrived more than 2,000 years ago. 

Death mask unearthed in one of the tombs [Credit: Xinhua]
The tombs, found in Ngari prefecture, were found to contain wooden caskets with human remains, copperware, swords and the skeletons of cattle believed to have been buried as sacrificial items, said Tong Tao from the archaeological institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. 

“We believe the location of the tombs was central to the ancient Shangshung kingdom, a once-powerful tribe that was taken over by Songtsen Gampo to become part of Tibet in the seventh century,” Xinhua quoted him as saying. 

Bon prevailed before the introduction of Buddhism 

All four tombs were found near a Bon monastery in Gar County. Bon was a religion that prevailed in Tibet before Buddhism was introduced from India in the seventh century. Its followers worshipped “natural spirits” like mountains and lakes. 

“The ancient kingdom of Shangshung is widely believed to be the cradle of the Bon religion and therefore a cultural and political center for the plateau,” said Tong. 

Most of the sacrificial items inside the tombs were apparently introduced to the plateau from India, what is known today as the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region and China’s interior regions, he said. “The swords, for example, apparently came from central and northern Chinese regions, while a gold mask unearthed from one of the tombs is similar the gold masks prevalent in northern India,” he said. 

Cultural exchange 

Tong and his colleagues believe the items indicate that the ancient Shangshung kingdom conducted diverse cultural and personnel exchanges and could be one of the earliest centres of civilization on the Tibet plateau. 

In 2005, monks in Gar County unearthed combs, firewood, copper kitchen utensils, carbonized plants and pieces of silk — some of which bore handwriting and paintings. 

Silk as gift 

Carbon dating found that they dated back 1,800 to 2,200 years, putting them somewhere between the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC — AD 24) and the Wei kingdom (220 — 265), he said. Emperors of Han Dynasty presented silk as gifts to maintain relations with the western kingdoms. 

The pieces of silk unearthed from the tombs were probably gifts from Chinese emperors. 

Source: The Hindu [August 25, 2012]

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