Documents the archaeological works of a dzong

The Drapham dzong in Bumthang dates back to the 16th century. The fortress’s compound measuring approximately 500m is two-storied. The dzong was built by the then rural Chokhor-Deb, a contemporary of Pema Lingpa.

This is an overview of the archaeological findings, which now is documented as a monograph or a detailed report of the archaeological works of the dzong.

Her Majesty the Queen Mother Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck released the monograph,  ‘Drapham Dzong: Archeological Excavation of a Himalayan Fortress in Central Bhutan’ at the Department of Culture (DoC) in Thimphu yesterday.

Division for Conservation of Heritage Sites’s Chief Architect Nagtsho Dorji said the monograph has been published after seven years following the completion of the archaeological excavation at Drapham Dzong. “It took time to analyse the findings at the site. To have the site interpreted with these data throw several different light on the history of Bhutan, in particular to construction of fortress in Bhutan.”

She expects the monograph to be a reference for young professionals to work and understand cultural heritage sites in Bhutan.

The monograph also documents details of small material finds, which include coarse pottery, fine ceramics, porcelain and imitation porcelain, metal, iron and lead among others.

It compiles details on everyday life such as diet and waste disposal, working environment, traces of religious life and the military compound based on the archaeological finds.

Prior to the documentation of the finds, an archaeological excavation of Drapham dzong was conducted. The excavation work began in 2008 under the Bhutan-Swiss Archaeology Project. DoC in collaboration with HELVETAS Swiss Inter-cooperation and Swiss Liechtenstein Foundation of Archaeological Research Abroad (SLSA) worked on the project.

The project was led by Dr Werner Meyer, a leading expert on the archaeology of medieval fortifications in Switzerland.

Excavation was phase one of the project, which later was extended to three phases.

DoC’s Director General Karma Weezir said that in phase one of the project, excavation operations, a comprehensive survey of the entire site, human resource development through hands-on training to Bhutanese counterparts at the site and educational exchanges were conducted. “The first ever scientific archaeological excavation project was started with the goal to contribute to the preservation of Bhutan’s cultural heritage and income generation from tourism through strengthening and institutionalisation of archaeology.”

With the completion of the first phase in 2010, a second phase aimed to institutionalise archaeology in Bhutan began in 2013.

In the second phase, field trainings and classroom teachings in 12 modules of archaeology was provided to local participants relevant in the field of conservation and archaeology. The participants included architects, engineers, and district cultural officers.

To implement the third phase of the project, a memorandum of understanding was signed in August last year.

Karma Weezir said the project is aimed at carrying out inventory, mapping, and research on potential archaeological sites in the country.

While the sites are to be selected in future, plans to promote the excavated dzong as a museum was shared. The findings from the dzong would also be displayed at a campsite in the next Plan.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, cabinet ministers, representatives from the Embassy of Switzerland and officials from the DoC attended the release of the monograph.

Phurpa Lhamo