A monument bearing the Records of the Great Tang Mission to India was recently discovered in Tibet's Gyirong County. It is the oldest monument revealing inscriptions of Chinese characters so far discovered in Tibet. Built in 658, this monument is 165 years older than the one erected in commemoration of the alliance of the Tang Dynasty and Tubo Kingdom, the most well-known historical record of exchanges between the Han and the Tibetan. Inscriptions on the Gyirong County monument include information about communications between inland China, Tubo and India during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), which gives historical proof of the long-standing cultural contact and friendship between the Hans and the Tibetans.
This discovery is only one of a several important archaeological findings in Tibet. Archaeologists have also obtained a large number of materials dating from prehistoric times, as well as historic materials from the Tubo Kingdom (7th-9th century) and later. These materials are of great importance for the better understanding of the origins and development of Tibetan civilization and its relations with cultures in China's interior.
Sichuan University and other institutions with archaeology programmes began sending experts to Tibet to conduct archaeological surveys in 1990. Since then, archaeologists have discovered two Old Stone Age sites at the Gyirong Basin on the northern slope of Xixabangma Peak, more than 4,000 metres above sea level, and obtained over 80 pieces of stone artifacts believed to be typical of the early stages of stoneware manufacture on the Tibetan Plateau. These findings provide important information for future surveys in search of early cultural sites in high altitude areas.
More than 30 sites containing refined stone artifacts were also found in the Yarlung Zangbo River valley. These sites produced more than 1,000 pieces of stone ware made from flint, crystal, yellow jade and agate. These findings provide valuable information for the study of the origin, development and dissemination of production techniques, especially in their relation with the stone ware south China.
Scientists have long been interested in the beginnings of Tibetan metallurgy. The archaeological findings at Qukong, near Lhasa, confirm that the ancient Tibetans entered the Bronze Age as early as 4,000 years ago. A copper and tin alloy arrow was unearthed in a lower layer of the site. This has moved the date of the beginning of Tibetan metellurgy up 2,000 years from what has previously been recorded in Tibetan historical texts.
Rock art recently found at Tingri, Danxung and Konggar reflects the origins of Tibetan artistry. These are either works made by chiseling, popular in China's northern grassland areas, or paintings commonly seen in south China. The paintings are mostly scenes of hunting, dancing, ancestor worshiping ceremonies and battles.
In recent years, over 10,000 ancient tombs of the Tubo Kingdom have been found in Lhasa, Shannan and Xigaze. Tomb structures, burial styles, funeral objects and large sacrificial ceremony remnants provide important clues to the study of burial customs and the social environment of the Tubo period little recorded in historical texts.
Also found have been a large number of ancient lamaseries, remains of military and civil structures, and sculptures and murals covering several historical periods. These illustrate additional great achievements of ancient Tibetan civilization and its close relation with the motherland. For instance, the Locun Grottoes in Qusum County contains painted clay sculptures, which are very similar in artistic style to the sculptures of the Mogao Grottoes at Dunhuang.
(This article appears on page 32, No. 31, 1992)