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

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Hunter-gatherer populations in greater northeast 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1510-1516
Number of pages7
JournalChinese Science Bulletin
Issue number14
StatePublished - 2003


  • China
  • Climate change
  • Late Pleistocene
  • Upper Paleolithic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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