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


By (author) John Vincent Bellezza, Foreword by Dalai Lama

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  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
  • Format: Hardback | 362 pages
  • Dimensions: 160mm x 234mm x 30mm | 612g
  • Publication date: 29 August 2014
  • Publication City/Country: Lanham, MD
  • ISBN 10: 144223461X
  • ISBN 13: 9781442234611
  • Illustrations note: 6 black & white illustrations, 45 black & white halftones
  • Sales rank: 1,088,882

Product description

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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Author information

John Vincent Bellezza is senior research fellow at the Tibet Center, University of Virginia, Charlottesville. An archaeologist and cultural historian focused on the pre-Buddhist heritage of Tibet and the Western Himalaya, he has lived in high Asia for three decades. Bellezza has published widely on archaic ritual traditions in Bon and Old Tibetan literature. Since 1992, he has comprehensively charted the monuments and rock art of the ancient Zhang Zhung and Sumpa proto-states. The first non-Tibetan to have explored both the geographic and ritual sources of each of the four great rivers that emerge from the Mount Tise region, Bellezza has also visited nearly every main island and major headland in the great lakes region of the Changthang.

Review quote

John Bellezza is one of a vanishing breed of scholars, an independent archaeological explorer whose work is pioneering in the truest sense of the word. His expeditions over the course of decades to the remotest and least-known regions of Tibet have unearthed a precious body of evidence for the interpretation of Tibet before Buddhism, with profound consequences for our understanding of the Tibetan world. -- Stephen Jenkins, Humboldt State University For over two decades John Bellezza has supplied the scientific community with spectacular findings from the historically little-explored world of Upper Tibet. His unique contacts with locals through many years of extensive travels throughout the western and northern plateau have given him access to hundreds of cultural sites, many of them clearly of prehistoric origin. Comparative analysis of these sites has led him to the recognition of an advanced early Metal Age civilization in Upper Tibet going back to c.1000 BCE. Regardless the caution of some researchers concerning the author's suggested shared genealogy of this complex with the entities of the historical Zhang Zhung and Bon, these meticulously recorded discoveries remain outstanding testimonies to Tibet's prehistoric cultural history. This insightful book recapitulates the key points of Bellezza's long survey of this ancient world. Combining extensive references to later, mainly non-Buddhist or Zhang Zhung-related textual sources and ethnographic details of the traditional life of Upper Tibet's nomadic communities, The Dawn of Tibet is a must for anyone interested in the cultures of the Tibetan highlands beyond their Buddhist horizons. -- Guntram Hazod, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna

Table of contents

Introduction Chapter 1: Discovering the First Civilization of Tibet Chapter 2: The Great Sky Realm: The Land of Upper Tibet Chapter 3: Tillers and Herders, Warriors and Saints: The People of Upper Tibet Chapter 4: From Sky to Earth: The History of Zhang Zhung Chapter 5: Touching the Sky: The Citadel and Temples of Zhang Zhung Chapter 6: Penetrating the Earth: The Burial Grounds of Zhang Zhung Chapter 7: Flesh, Blood, and Bones in Stone: The Artistic Treasures of Zhang Zhung Chapter 8: Father Sky Eagle and Mother Earth Serpent: The Religion of Zhang Zhung Chapter 9: Horned Heroes and Turquoise Maidens: The Cultural Life of Zhang Zhung Chapter 10: My Ancestors, My Gods: Zhang Zhung Reigns in Contemporary Upper Tibet Conclusion Bibliography