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   Archaeological Investigations 
   in the Kingdom of Bhutan 
      by the Swiss-Liechtenstein Foundation for Archaeological Research Abroad

Background 
    During the last months of the year 1998, terracing works started on the building site of a new agronomical research center. The planned Renewable Natural Resources Research Center (RNR-RC) complex, consisting of four main buildings, was to be built for the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) of the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB). 
    As the first foundations trenches were dug, a larger slab laying in horizontal position was baggered away, uncovering an hollow volume surrounded by more stones and slabs. Since this unnatural soil feature was located just at an important foundation corner, the architect and engineer decided to clear this hole by removing more peripheral stones in order to understand its presence.
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Foundation trench diggings for the first Rnr-Rc building in 1998. 

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Copyright © 1998, F. Baumgartner, Thimpu. All rights reserved.


Hollow volume uncovered during foundation trench diggings in 1998. The opening is about 1m in diameter. 

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Copyright © 1998, F. Baumgartner, Thimpu. All rights reserved.


    The yard responsible recognized the antropogenic nature of the feature. They engaged a partial excavation of the filling which could be distinguished from the structural stones. Soon, the shape of the structure was recognized as a dome-roof made of stone slabs, apparently covering an underground structure. Within the excavated debris, they found a few remains. Among them, a fragment of a grinding stone, a wooden shingle, a pair of rim pottery sherds, and charcoal fragments agglutinated to clayey sediment. The hypothesis of an old well arose among the observers. 
    Later, this structure was labeled B1.
Hidden Findings

Grooved grinding stone fragment, granite. 

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Copyright © 1998, F. Baumgartner, Thimpu. All rights reserved.


Shingle and other wood fragment. 

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Copyright © 1998, F. Baumgartner, Thimpu. All rights reserved. 
 


    Soon later, terracing works for another building were undertaken at about 150 meters to the southeast of the underground structure. Ultimately under the topsoil of a mound, the bagger shovel again struck on bigger stones. This time, the work was immediately stopped, and the architect ordered a superficial cleaning of the sediment covering the stones. After a few hours, the laborers obtained a surface looking as a squarish flat layer of stones. Excepting a bronze coin of Tibetan origin found in the vicinity of the stone surface, no artifact was recovered. 
    This stone surface received the label B3.
More Stones

Labourers unearthing stone surface. 

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Copyright © 1998, F. Baumgartner, Thimpu. All rights reserved.


Stone surface after clearing. 

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Copyright © 1998, F. Baumgartner, Thimpu. All rights reserved.


At this point, the yard architect decided to inspect the vicinity of the planned buildings to eventually distinguish further anomalies. Two other features were noticed: 
  • a short stretch of stone wall, laying against a sub-terrace riser only a few meters from the underground dome structure (B2);
  • a rounded mound, approximately 10 meters in diameter, located on the forested edge of the main terrace riser, but well away from the building yard, to the South-East (B4).
Further Discoveries

Wall remains B2, near the underground structure B1. 

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Copyright © 1998, F. Baumgartner, Thimpu. All rights reserved.


Mound B4, located outside of the building area. 

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Copyright © 1998, F. Baumgartner, Thimpu. All rights reserved.


    At this early stage (end of 1998), long before the archaeological work proper started, four structures with potential archaeological information were located in the immediate vicinity of the planned RNR-RC complex. Some sort of excavation work has been done on all of them by the yard team: 
  • removal of structural slabs and excavation of filling in underground structure B1, including recovering of artifacts and charcoal;
  • slight clearing of vegetation in front of wall remains B2;
  • extensive superficial clearing of sediment covering stone surface B3;
  • tree felling on mound B4.
    Minimal documentation was collected and compiled by the yard engineers. It comprises a serie of photographs, mostly digital, a sketch of underground structure B1 for the purpose of planning the shifting of the first building, and finally a short overview report of the discoveries and findings. 
    The findings were reported to the Minister of Agriculture of the RGoB. The Minister requested an archaeological expertise to be undertaken prior to any further actions. Since there is no archaeological survey in the Kingdom of Bhutan, a foreign archaeologist had to be invited. 
    Helvetas proposed to organize the logistics for this expertise. Early 1999, they mandated the Swiss-Liechtenstein Foundation for Archaeological Research Abroad (SLFA), based in Zurich, Switzerland, for carrying out the necessary documentation of the findings to certify their eventual antiquity.
Overview
and
Actions

Locations of archaeological structures B1, B2, B3, and B4 in the setting of the new RNR-RC buildings.

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Modified from a digital photograph by F. Baumgartner, Thimpu. Copyright
© 2000, R. Blumer. All rights reserved.

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This page was last updated on June 19, 2000.
Copyright © 2000 Reto Blumer, SLFA. All rights reserved