Moving Agriculture onto the Tibetan Plateau

d’Alpoim Guedes, Jade, Lu Hongliang, Li Yongxian, Wu Xiaohong, Robert N. Spengler III, and Mark S. Aldenderfer
2014. Moving Agriculture onto the Tibetan Plateau: The Archaeobotanical Evidence.
Journal of Archaeological and Anthropological Science 6: 255-269. Peer-reviewed.


AASThe Tibetan Plateau has one of the least hospitable environments for agriculture on the planet; however, its inhabitants have developed an economic system based on agriculture and pastoralism suited to its geoenvironmental stressors. Little is known about the timing of the spread of agriculture onto the plateau or how agricultural systems were adapted to this environment. In this article, we present palaeoethnobotanical data from two sites, Changdu Karuo (c. 2700–2300 cal B.C.) and Kyung-lung Mesa (A.D. 220–334 and A.D. 694–880). In addition, we synthesize previously reported data (much of which has never been published in peer-reviewed journals). We argue that the earliest agriculture was based on millets (broomcorn and foxtail) and was accompanied by a pig-based economic system. This early economy, which likely originated in western China, was later replaced by a better adapted system, similar to those identified in Central Asia. The later system was based on crops such as wheat, barley, peas, and millets, as well as sheep and goat pastoralism. Wild resources obtained through hunting, fishing, and foraging appear to have been complements to the diet on the Tibetan Plateau.