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Agriculture facilitated permanent human occupation of the Tibetan Plateau after 3600 B.P.

Science  16 Jan 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6219, pp. 248-250
DOI: 10.1126/science.1259172

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Colonizing the roof of the world

Humans only settled permanently on the Tibetan plateau about 3600 years ago. Chen et al. examined archaeological crop remains unearthed in northeastern Tibet, which elucidate the timing of agricultural settlement. Although much earlier traces of humans in Tibet have been dated to 20,000 years ago, year-round presence at the highest altitudes appears to have been impossible until the advent of suitable crops, such as barley. Surprisingly, these prehistoric farming communities expanded onto the plateau at the same time as climate was cooling.

Science, this issue p. 248

Abstract

Our understanding of when and how humans adapted to living on the Tibetan Plateau at altitudes above 2000 to 3000 meters has been constrained by a paucity of archaeological data. Here we report data sets from the northeastern Tibetan Plateau indicating that the first villages were established only by 5200 calendar years before the present (cal yr B.P.). Using these data, we tested the hypothesis that a novel agropastoral economy facilitated year-round living at higher altitudes since 3600 cal yr B.P. This successful subsistence strategy facilitated the adaptation of farmers-herders to the challenges of global temperature decline during the late Holocene.

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