The early history of Tibet

Tibet is situated between the two ancient civilizations of China and India, but the tangled mountain ranges of the Tibetan Plateau and the towering Himalayas serve to distance it from both. The Tibetan language is a member of the Tibeto-Burman branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Tibet is nicknamed "the roof of the world" or "the land of snows".


The earliest Tibetan historical texts identify the Zhang Zhung culture as a people who migrated from the Amdo region into what is now the region of Guge in western Tibet. The Zhang Zhung are considered the original culture of the B? religion. By the first century BCE, a neighboring kingdom arose in the Yarlung valley, and the Yarlung king, Drigum Tsenpo, attempted to remove the influence of the Zhang Zhung by expelling the Zhang's B? priests from Yarlung. He was assassinated and Zhang Zhung continued its dominance of the region until it was annexed by Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century.

Construction of an early history of the Tibetan region by western sources relies primarily on ancient Chinese histories supplemented with limited archaeological findings. Chinese and "proto-Tibeto-Burman" languages may have split sometime before 4000 BC. The Chinese began growing millet in the Yellow River valley and the Tibeto-Burmans remained nomads; Tibetan split from Burmese circa 500.

Archaeological record

Megalithic monuments dot the Tibetan Plateau and may have been used in ancestor worship. It is unknown whether these monuments were built by ancient Tibetans. Prehistoric Iron Age hill forts and burial complexes have recently been found on the Tibetan plateau but the remote high altitude location makes archaeological research difficult.

In his book, The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama, Thomas Laird says, "The Indian archaeologist V. N. Misra has shown that early humans inhabited the Tibetan Plateau from at least twenty thousand years ago and that there is reason to believe that early humans passed through Tibet at the time India was first inhabited, half a million years ago.

Founding of the dynasty

Tibet began at the castle named Takts?(Stag-rtse) in the Chingba (Phying-ba) district of Chonggy?(Phyongs-rgyas). There, According to the Old Tibetan Chronicle

"A group of conspirators convinced Stag-bu snya-gzigs [Tagbu Nyazig] to rebel against Dgu-gri Zing-po-rje [Gudri Zingpoje]. Zing-po-rje was in turn a vassal of the Zhang-zhung empire under the Lig myi dynasty. Zing-po-rje died before the conspiracy could get underway, and his son Gnam-ri-slon-mtshan [Namri L?tsen] instead led the conspiracy after extracting an oath of fealty from the conspirators."

The group prevailed against Zing-po-rje. At this point Namri Songtsen (Namri L?ts?) was the leader of a fledgling clan which prevailed over all his neighboring clans, one by one, to finally control all the area around what is now Lhasa by 630, when he was assassinated. This new-born regional state would become the Tibetan Empire.