The research programme Archaeological Exploration of Ladakh (AEL) aims at documenting all the types of monuments & remains, from all the periods, in all the regions, valleys and villages of Ladakh. It is hosted at the Research Centre for East Asian Civilisations (CRCAO, Paris) and is directed by Quentin Devers. The AEL comprises five components:
- The publication of a series of volumes on the heritage sites of Ladakh in collaboration with the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH, Delhi). [go to section]
- The study of the funerary cave of the Old Lady Spider, in co-direction with Veena Mushrif-Tripathy. [go to section]
- The documentation and study of the rock art sites of Ladakh in collaboration with Tashi Ldawa, Viraf Mehta, Choldan Gasha, and Sonam Wangchuk. [go to section]
- Research into the overall heritage of Ladakh through close collaborations (Nils Martin, Samara Broglia de Moura, Ai Nishida, etc) in order to understand its rich past. [go to section]
- The publication of the online archive ladakharchaeology.com.
1. Volumes on the heritage sites of Ladakh
This series of volumes is a collaboration with the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH, Delhi), initiated by Kacho Mumtaz Khan, Vijaya Amujure, and Quentin Devers. Four volumes are completed to date, on the regions of Purig, Changthang, Nubra and Zanskar. The surveys behind these volumes represent over 3,300km of tracks covered on foot and 21,000km of driving, for over a thousand sites documented. The last two volumes will cover the regions of Sham and Zhungkor (or Stod).
The volumes are available at the INTACH office in Delhi. Internationally, they are distributed in the countries where Kindle Print on Demand services are available.
- Historical Sites of Purig (2018): it includes the documentation of 258 sites, nearly two hundred of which were brought to light by the surveys behind this publication. A second edition is under preparation. (see on amazon.com)
- Historical Sites of Changthang (2019): it is a collaboration with the District Commissioner of Leh of the time, Avny Lavasa. It includes the documentation of 255 sites, about 180 of which were brought to light by the surveys behind this publication. (see on amazon.com)
- Historical Sites of Zanskar (2021): it includes the documentation of 272 sites, about 140 of which were brought to light by the surveys behind this publication. (see on amazon.com)
- Historical Sites of Nubra (2021): it includes the documentation of 267 sites, nearly 125 of which were brought to light by the surveys behind this publication, including the highest rock art site in the world and the oldest wall paintings of the Western Himalayas. (see on amazon.com)
2. Study of the Old Lady Spider cave
There once was a monster called Abi Srinjamo, or the Old Lady Spider. Her den was inside a deep cave, whose floor was covered with human bones. The giant beast used to wander the mountain, eating anyone she would encounter and spitting out their skeleton inside the cave. One day, the Tibetan hero Kesar came to know about the monster. He decided to go on a chase. When he finally saw her, he took his legendary bow, fearlessly aimed at the creature, and killed her in one swift blow, forever freeing the people from the wrath of the Old Lady Spider.
The cave is located at about 4000m above sea level. It is composed of several rooms connected by tunnels. From the second room onward, the floor is covered with human bones. The cave was discovered in 2015 during the surveys for the INTACH volume on the historical sites of Purig (see here-above). Following this find, a research project was set up by Pr. Veena Mushrif-Tripathy (Deccan College Post-Graduate & Research Institute, Pune) and Quentin Devers, with the support of Kacho Mumtaz Khan and Kacho Sikundar Khan.
An excavation was conducted in August 2021, with the assistance of Saurabh Singh and Sumeet Jadhav (Deccan College). The anthropological analysis of the bones is underway as part of the PhD topic of Sonam Dolma at the Deccan College. The study includes a genetic analysis in partnership with David Reich (Harvard Medical School).
3. Rock Art Initiative
This documentation, research and conservation effort on the rock art of Ladakh is a collaboration between Tashi Ldawa (University of Ladakh), Viraf Mehta, Choldan Gasha, Sonam Wangchuk (Himalayan Cultural Heritage Foundation), and Quentin Devers. It has resulted in the creation of the Ladakh Rock Art Resource Centre in Leh, which includes a library with about a thousand books and journals. It has also resulted in the establishment of the Centre for Rock Art Studies & Heritage Conservation within the University of Ladakh.
As of 2022, the team has documented about 700 petroglyph & pictograph sites, and conducted numerous workshops and presentations locally to help spread awareness on this invaluable heritage.
4. Research into the overall heritage of Ladakh
Alongside the fieldwork conducted to document all the categories of heritage, close collaborations are engaged to analyse the sites in order to understand Ladakh’s past more in depth:
- Nils Martin (CRCAO, Paris): his research is focused on the Buddhist art of Ladakh from the Tibetan imperial period to the Namgyal dynasty & the early Tibetan inscriptions of the region. His work includes the in-depth analysis of the painted monuments of the Wanla Group (c. 14th century), the murals of the Ensa stupas (c. 9th century, the oldest wall-paintings of the Western Himalayas), as well as a number of significant temple & rock inscriptions in Ladakh.
- Samara Broglia de Moura (CRCAO, Paris): her research is focused on the ancient ceramics of Ladakh, from Protohistory to the Namgyal dynasty. Her experience includes extensive fieldwork in Central Asia (Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan) & other Western Himalayan regions (Spiti, Mustang), areas whose ancient ceramic cultures are observable in Ladakh as well.
- Ai Nishida (Kyoto University): her research is focused on the Old Tibetan manuscripts, in particular from Dunhuang and East Turkestan. Her work includes a study of the rock inscriptions of Ladakh in the continuity of and in homage to the work pioneered by Tsuguhito Takeuchi.
- Richard Salomon (University of Washington): famous for his research on the Gandharan manuscripts (oldest known Buddhist manuscripts), he has conducted the translation and commentary of the most comprehensive collection of Kharoṣṭhī and Brāhmī inscriptions in Ladakh.