skip to content

Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit


What exactly was ancient Zhangzhung in far western Tibet?

Variously called a state, empire, civilization, and the foundation of an indigenous Tibetan identity, Zhangzhung remains poorly understood despite more than two decades of systematic archaeological research. In this presentation, I will offer a reconstruction of the Zhangzhung polity based upon mortuary data, indicators of wealth, and inferred settlement hierarchies. Based upon these data, as well as what can be gleaned from sparse historical documents, I argue that that Zhangzhung was most likely a confederation of clan-based societies characteristic of a complex chiefdom.


Mark Aldenderfer is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology and Heritage Studies at the University of California, Merced and holds the Edward A. Dickson Emeriti Professorship Endowed Chair. His research focuses the comparative analysis of high altitude cultural and biological adaptations from an archaeological perspective. From 1997-2005 he conducted field work in and around the domain of the Zhangzhung in western Tibet. In 2008, he began a new project of survey and excavation in Upper Mustang, Nepal, to explore early religious practices and their transformation over time.

Tuesday, 27 February, 2024 - 16:30 to 18:00
Event location: 
Mond Building Seminar Room