5500 years of changing crop niches on the Tibetan Plateau


The timing and mechanics of the spread of agriculture to the Tibetan Plateau—one of the most challenging environmental contexts on Earth—is a focus of recent work and debate. In research on the spread of agriculture, researchers have sought evidence for the earliest, furthest or highest occurrences of diagnostic elements. However, the case of the Tibetan Plateau illustrates a key flaw in current work: archaeologists have often uncritically interpreted the presence of plant domesticates at archaeological sites as being indicative of local agricultural practice. This assumption neglects the long history of food exchange on the Plateau—as elsewhere in the world even beyond the then limits of agriculture. The cause is a fundamental lack of understanding of where crops could be grown in prehistory. Using a formal model of the agricultural thermal niche between the 5500 cal. BP and the present, we argue that agricultural niches on the Tibetan Plateau were tightly constrained to lower elevation river valleys throughout time. This pattern is confirmed by analysis of the extent of modern crop production on the Plateau. The challenges deriving from these altitudinal constraints placed on early Tibetans largely explain how and why the Tibetan economy developed the way it did.

Cite this Record

5500 years of changing crop niches on the Tibetan Plateau. Jade DAlpoim Guedes, R. Kyle Bocinsky, Sturt Manning. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 403281)


Spatial Coverage

min long: 66.885; min lat: -8.928 ; max long: 147.568; max lat: 54.059 ;