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Guge: Tibet's Long-Lost Kingdom Volume 56 Number 3, May/June 2003
by Xiong Lei

Archaeologists are rediscovering the glories of a great Tibetan dynasty, forgoten for centuries.

Tsaparang castle, as viewed from one of the hundreds of frescoed caves pockmarking the soft clay hills that surround the 900-foot-high citadel. (Jin Shijzi/ImagineChina)
For more exclusive images, see the May/June 2003 issue of ARCHAEOLOGY. (Note that buying article below does NOT include images.)

When China's State Council declared Tsaparang one of the country's first official cultural heritage sites in 1961, no expert on the panel that compiled the list had ever been to the former capital of the Guge kingdom in western Tibet. "They only happened to see some scenes of the ruins in a documentary film taken by a crew in the 1950s," says Zhang Jianlin, a research professor with Xi'an Archaeology Institute in Shaanxi, who has worked on the ruins, some twelve hundred miles from the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, since the late 1970s. Grainy, shaky footage of Tsaparang showed a massive mountaintop fortress with lavishly painted interiors, surrounded by soft clay cliffs peppered with caves. Though it was the least studied of the several hundred candidate sites, the experts decided it was of vital importance.

"What is certain is that findings at Guge so far are only the tip of an iceberg," says another researcher. "Having studied the lost kingdom for a decade now, I've mainly discovered that the questions continually raised about Guge have far outnumbered our answers."

Xiong Lei is a reporter for Beijing-based China Features.

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© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America