The transition to a barley-dominant cultivation system in Tibet

Li Tang, Hongliang Lu, Jixiang Song, Sharge Wangdue, Xinzhou Chen, Zhengwei Zhang, Xinyi Liu, Nicole Boivin, Robert N. Spengler (2020) The transition to a barley-dominant cultivation system in Tibet: First millennium BC archaeobotanical evidence from Bangga. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 61: 101242.

Anthropological ArchaeologyHistorically, agricultural and culinary traditions on the Tibetan Plateau have centered on a specific variety of naked frost-tolerant barley. Single-crop-dominant cultivation systems were rare in the ancient world, and we know little about how, why, and exactly when and where this unique barley-dominant economy developed. Previous research has shown that early cultivation systems in Tibet relied on a mix of barley, wheat, and millets, and that a barley-dominant economy first formed around two millennia ago. However, systematically collected data from the transition period between a mixed-cropping and a barley-dominant system have been lacking. We present new archaeobotanical data from the Bangga site (ca. 1055-211BC) in central Tibet, and compare it with a growing corpus of data from other archaeological sites at high elevations across the plateau. We argue that a specialized barley-dominant farming system started to develop, due to a combination of ecological and social factors, at least a millennia earlier than previously recognized in central Tibet and this was eventually adopted across a large geographic area in high-altitude regions (3500 masl) of Tibet.