Send to

Choose Destination
High Alt Med Biol. 2011 Summer;12(2):141-7. doi: 10.1089/ham.2010.1094.

Peopling the Tibetan plateau: insights from archaeology.

Author information

School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced, CA 95343, USA.


Recent studies of the genome of modern Tibetans have revealed the existence of genes thought to provide an adaptive advantage for life at high elevation. Extrapolating from this discovery, some researchers now argue that a Tibetan-Han split occurred no more than 2750 yr ago. This date is implausible, and in this paper I review the archaeological data from the Tibetan plateau as one means by which to examine the veracity of this assertion. Following a review of the general state of knowledge of Tibetan prehistory, which is unfortunately only at its beginnings, I first examine the data that speak to the initial peopling of the plateau and assess the evidence that traces of their presence can be seen in modern Tibetans today. Although the data are sparse, both archaeology and genetics suggest that the plateau was occupied in the Late Pleistocene, perhaps as early as 30,000 yr ago, and that these early peoples have left a genetic signature in modern Tibetans. I then turn to the evidence for later migrations and focus on the question of the timing of the establishment of permanent settled villages on the plateau. Three areas of the plateau-northeastern Qinghai, extreme eastern Tibet, and the Yarlung Tsangpo valley-have evidence of permanent settlements dating from ca. 6500, 5900, and 3750 yr ago, respectively. These data are not consonant with the 2750 yr ago date for the split and suggest at a minimum that the plateau has been occupied substantially longer and, further, that multiple migrations at different times and from different places have created a complex mosaic of population history.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Atypon
Loading ...
Support Center