Chinese Science Bulletin

, Volume 48, Issue 14, pp 1510–1516 | Cite as

Speculation on the timing and nature of Late Pleistocene hunter-gatherer colonization of the Tibetan Plateau

  • P. J. Brantingham
  • Haizhou Ma
  • J. W. Olsen
  • Xing Gao
  • D. B. Madsen
  • D. E. Rhode


Hunter-gatherer populations in greater north-east Asia experienced dramatic range expansions during the early Upper Paleolithic (45—22 ka) and the late Upper Paleolithic (18—10 ka), both of which led to intensive occupations of cold desert environments including the Mongolian Gobi and northwest China. Range contractions under the cold, arid extremes of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, 22—18 ka) may have entailed widespread population extirpations. The high elevation Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau is significantly more extreme in both climate and environment than either the Gobi or the Siberian taiga forests, and provides an ideal setting to test fundamental models of human biogeography in the context of regional population fluctuations. The area is presently occupied primarily by nomadic pastoralists, but it is clear that these complex middle Holocene (<6 ka) economic adaptations were not a necessary prerequisite for successful colonization of the high elevation Plateau. Exploratory field-work in 2000–2001 has established that Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers were present on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau by at least 12 ka and possibly much earlier. A speculative model for the colonization process is developed and preliminary archaeological data in support of the model are presented.


Upper Paleolithic late Pleistocene climate change China 


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Copyright information

© Science in China Press 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. J. Brantingham
    • 1
  • Haizhou Ma
    • 2
  • J. W. Olsen
    • 3
  • Xing Gao
    • 4
  • D. B. Madsen
    • 5
  • D. E. Rhode
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Institute of Salt LakesChinese Academy of SciencesXiningChina
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of ArizonaUSA
  4. 4.Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and PaleoanthropologyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  5. 5.Desert Research InstituteUSA

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