Early foraging settlement of the Tibetan Plateau highlands

David B. Madsen, Charles Perreault, David Rhode, Yongjuan Sun, Mingjie Yi, Katherine Brunson, P. Jeffrey Brantingham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


We identified and dated 18 occupational events at eight sites dating to ~ 14.7–10.8 kiloannum before present (ka BP) during a decade of archaeological survey and excavation on the northeastern high Tibetan Plateau (TP) > 3200 m. The ephemeral nature of the earliest sites suggests they were created by small foraging groups during very short stays. By ~ 12 ka BP, larger foraging groups began to occupy sites > 4000 m leading to a more intensive occupation of the high TP after ~ 9.5 ka BP. This archaeologically-based chronology closely matches genetically-based Tibetan population histories showing an early growth in population size and initial split with Han populations ~ 15–9 ka BP, and a second spike in population growth during the early-mid Holocene. We found no evidence for occupation of the high TP prior to or during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), suggesting the initial separation of Tibetan and Han populations may have occurred at lower elevations in the TP margins or after the LGM in the high TP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15-26
Number of pages12
JournalArchaeological Research in Asia
StatePublished - Sep 2017


  • High altitude adaptation
  • Seasonal transhumance
  • Tibet Upper Paleolithic
  • Tibetan genetic history

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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