Report

Permanent human occupation of the central Tibetan Plateau in the early Holocene

Science  06 Jan 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6320, pp. 64-67
DOI: 10.1126/science.aag0357

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The peopling of Tibet

The date of the first permanent human occupation of the high Tibetan Plateau has been estimated at about 3600 years ago, when agriculture became established. Meyer et al. used several dating techniques to analyze sediments at a high-altitude site (4270 m) where human handprints and footprints have been found. Their analysis indicates occupation of the plateau 7400 years ago and possibly earlier. These dates are consistent with the genetic history of Tibetans and suggest that a permanent preagricultural peopling of the plateau was enabled by the wetter regional climate at that time.

Science, this issue p. 64

Abstract

Current models of the peopling of the higher-elevation zones of the Tibetan Plateau postulate that permanent occupation could only have been facilitated by an agricultural lifeway at ~3.6 thousand calibrated carbon-14 years before present. Here we report a reanalysis of the chronology of the Chusang site, located on the central Tibetan Plateau at an elevation of ~4270 meters above sea level. The minimum age of the site is fixed at ~7.4 thousand years (thorium-230/uranium dating), with a maximum age between ~8.20 and 12.67 thousand calibrated carbon-14 years before present (carbon-14 assays). Travel cost modeling and archaeological data suggest that the site was part of an annual, permanent, preagricultural occupation of the central plateau. These findings challenge current models of the occupation of the Tibetan Plateau.

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