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Archaeology, Art and Material Culture in the Tibetan Cultural Realm

by Lemardelé Élise - published on , updated on

Directors: Laurianne Bruneau (EPHE), Matthew Kapstein (EPHE), Françoise Pommaret (CNRS)

Permanent Members: Charles Ramble (EPHE)

Associate Members: Mechtild Mertz (Kyoto University)

Doctoral Students: Quentin Devers (EPHE); Charles Manson (EPHE) ; Nils Martin (EPHE)

This unique programme proposes to develop a promising field of research in Tibetan studies: the material analysis of monuments and objects. Indeed, so far numerous studies have focused on iconographic and stylistic aspects as well as usage and purpose, but very little research has been conducted in the technical domain. Another key feature of this programme is its focus on vestiges of the pre-Buddhist Tibetan world that remain to date largely unexplored. Special attention will be given on cultural heritage conservation and enhancement. The research will be conducted by members of the TBACT and other teams of the CRCAO in collaboration with renowned French and foreign specialists.

1. Archaeology and art of the Tibetan world (director: L. Bruneau)
This part of the programme is based on the activities of the MAFIL, in partnership with the Archaeological Survey of India, directed on the French side by L. Bruneau. The MAFIL is working on establishing a cultural sequence of Ladakh, a western area of the Tibetan cultural region, from pre-history to the medieval period based on extensive surveys and excavations. L. Bruneau and M. Vernier have conducted diachronic studies on rock art sites (petroglyphs, reliefs and steles) from the spatial, iconographic and stylistic perspectives. Q. Devers’ research focuses on the development of fortification and construction techniques (forts, dwellings, temples, chortens etc). M. Mertz is conducting ethno-botanical analysis of the wooden elements in temples. N. Martin is conducting iconographic, stylistic and radiometric analysis of 14th -15th century wall-paintings. In order to situate Ladakh in a more global regional, archaeological, historical and artistic context, the team members are collaborating with researchers working in adjacent regions.

In Bhutan, archaeological research is still in its preliminary phases and has so far consisted of small survey expeditions led by the University of Zurich with Swiss government sponsorship. Owing to F. Pommaret’s efforts, an introductory course on archaeology is now included in the BA and Masters programme at the Institute of Language and Cultural Studies (ILCS), Royal University of Bhutan where she lectures on the pre-history and history of the regions of the Tibetan cultural area.

2. Tibetan Codicology (Director: M. Kapstein)
The purpose of this project is to develop a comprehensive manual on the study of Tibetan manuscripts in collaboration with researchers from the UK, Germany, China, Poland and the USA. The book will deal with the conception of Tibetan books, palaeography, writing conventions and diplomatics.

3. Tibetan Cultural Heritage (Director: Françoise Pommaret)

Cultural heritage in the Tibetan cultural region is confronted with the notion of impermanence proper to Buddhist culture on one hand and to local economic development on the other. Partnerships with local institutions have been established in Bhutan and Ladakh.

In Bhutan, Françoise Pommaret has created a website ( in collaboration with local researchers from the ILCS, Royal University of Bhutan. The aim is to identify tangible and intangible cultural assets across Bhutan. The project is currently sponsored by the Alliance de Protection du Patrimoine Culturel Asiatique (APPCA, or Alliance for the protection of Cultural Heritage in Asia).
In Ladakh, specific measures have been adopted for the protection of the remains surveyed by the MAFIL in partnership with the Archaeological Survey of India. Efforts are made to raise awareness and preserve rock art (petroglyphs and Buddhist steles) has been launched in partnership with various local organizations, and a Himalayan Rock Art Trust is under creation.