The earliest human occupation of the high-altitude Tibetan Plateau 40 thousand to 30 thousand years ago

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Science  30 Nov 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6418, pp. 1049-1051
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat8824

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Paleolithic occupation of Tibet

Human colonization of the high-altitude Tibetan Plateau has generally been thought to have been confined to the past few thousand years of the Holocene. Zhang et al. report an investigation of the Nwya Devu archaeological site in central Tibet, 4600 meters above sea level, with Paleolithic occupation dates of ∼40 thousand to 30 thousand years ago (see the Perspective by Zhang and Dennell). The site has yielded a range of stone tools, indicating the adaptive ability of early modern humans to the harsh environment of the “roof of the world.” The findings also suggest that people from Tibet and Siberia may have interacted at this time.

Science, this issue p. 1049; see also p. 992


The Tibetan Plateau is the highest and one of the most demanding environments ever inhabited by humans. We investigated the timing and mechanisms of its initial colonization at the Nwya Devu site, located nearly 4600 meters above sea level. This site, dating from 40,000 to 30,000 years ago, is the highest Paleolithic archaeological site yet identified globally. Nwya Devu has yielded an abundant blade tool assemblage, indicating hitherto-unknown capacities for the survival of modern humans who camped in this environment. This site deepens the history of the peopling of the “roof of the world” and the antiquity of human high-altitude occupations more generally.

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