Research Conducted in
A Report of Investigations Carried Out under a Program of Research Entitled “Defining the Paleolithic Presence on the Tibetan Plateau” Supported by the American Council on Learned Societies
& the Henry Luce Foundation
Mark S. Aldenderfer
John W. Olsen
Department of Anthropology
P. Jeffrey Brantingham
Department of Anthropology
18 February 2008
Archaeological research conducted in
Research during the 2007
season focused on the following research goals: 1) conducting reconnaissance
level survey in three areas of the Sutlej (Langchen Khebab; 象泉河) river drainage in
The larger research goals of
this project are to examine questions regarding the initial peopling of the
Tibetan Plateau and to determine if multiple routes were used to gain access to
it in the past. Until recently, most
models of the process of peopling the Plateau assumed that the primary, perhaps
sole, route of entry was from the north and northeast, and that this dated to
the Paleolithic, perhaps as early as 30,000 years ago or more (Aldenderfer and
Zhang 2004). However, recent
archaeological research in far western
One possible route onto the Plateau
in the Tibetan far west is the
General location of
La was a major trade route between
The research team consisted
of three senior scientists from the
Reconnaissance level survey
was conducted along the terrace systems on the south side of the
Figure 3. View of
terrace systems on south side of
Survey, then, was focused on the upper terraces, especially 4-6, although terrace 1 was examined as a rough check on the proposed dating scheme.
Because this was a reconnaissance level survey, strict maintenance of survey transects was not a priority. Instead, terrace margins were walked in a roughly parallel manner, and site and component locations were mapped with Trimble Geo XH high-resolution global positioning system (GPS) devices.
More than 150 archaeological sites of all time periods were discovered during the survey, and of these, 31 are likely to date to pre-Holocene, possibly Paleolithic cultural periods. Tool forms and reduction sequences in this region are poorly-defined, and since there are no excavated sites on the central Plateau with secure chronometric dating, only cross-dating of tool forms can be used to assess preliminary estimates of age.
Two distinct reduction strategies are observed: 1) a large flake/blade process, in which globular or irregularly-shaped nodules of local raw materials are struck to produce large flakes and/or large blade-like flakes (Fig. 4) and 2) a “splinter” technology, in which roughly rectangular nodules of local raw material are struck to create blade-like splinters of distinctive shape (Fig. 5).
Figure 4. Large flake reduction debris in situ.
Figure 5. “Splinter” reduction debris.
Objects similar to the large
flakes and flake/blades are relatively common further east on the Plateau
(Aldenderfer and Zhang 2004), but similar reduction debris can also be found
further to the west along the Sutlej drainage in
One clearly diagnostic artifact discovered during survey was a Levallois-like flake found on Terrace 7 (the oldest terrace), see Fig. 6.
Figure 6. Levallois-like flake found in situ.
This technology is
Of the 31 sites and components found in this portion of the study area, 18 are included in the flake/blade reduction category, and 13 exhibit predominantly splinter technology.
Survey was also conducted in
the upper Sutlej drainage near the modern
In this area, a total of 18 sites and components possibly dating to the Paleolithic were discovered. Of these, one contained a Levallois-like core or flake. Eleven of the components (including that with the Levallois-like flake) were characterized by the flake/blade reduction strategy, and nine reflected the splinter technology.
Terrace sequence on the upper
This aspect of our research
has demonstrated that there was substantial aceramic (presumably preceramic) lithic utilization of the terraces of the
Future expeditions will conduct further surveys as well as seek out sites in the drainage that have stratigraphic integrity and the potential of chronometric dating so as to address the question of this potential early migration in a systematic and conclusive manner.
Paleolithic investigations conducted in northern
Our work in the Amdo region (安多地区) of the northern Qinghai-Tibet
Plateau (清-藏高原) focused on survey for and test excavation of
archaeological sites in central and southern
A team of eight researchers
conducted fieldwork during the months of June and July, 2007. The team
included three senior scientists from the
As a follow-up to work
conducted in 2006, we revisited five geological localities at Qinghai Hu (青海湖,
In 2007 we returned to an
archaeological site (first identified in 2006) exposed in a gravel pit
associated with the Hudong Yangchang
Dam. The site consisted of a circular hearth or fire-pit with an
associated scatter of stone tools. The feature was 14C dated
to ~13,000 calendar years before present and our 2007 visit was focused on
increasing the size of the stone tool sample. The Dam Site is the third
locality in the
We identified a new archaeological site at the canyon mouth near the settlement of “151” (一五一). This is a large, heavily organic midden containing abundant bone, some coarse ceramics, and microblades. In appearance and material content, the “151” site is similar to Jiangxigou 2 (江西沟 2; located ~15 km to the east), which is dated to between 6-9,000 calendar years ago. Future work in the area may involve excavations at “151.”
Archaeological Reconnaissance in the
Basin (共和盆地) lies south of the Qinghai Nanshan
(青海南山) Mountains and represents one possible route that humans
may have traversed onto the Tibetan Plateau. There is a reasonably
well-known mid-Holocene Neolithic complex, the so-called Zongri
Culture (总日文化), already identified in the
We also surveyed for prehistoric sites in the region surrounding the Lin Xia (林峡Lin Gorge). The geological setting in this area, however, is poor for archaeological site preservation and results were not encouraging.
Investigations in the Xiadawu & Donggi Cona Regions
Our work in higher elevation
areas (above 4000 m asl)
concentrated on terraces of the
Donggi Cona is a large tectonic freshwater lake at an elevation of approximately 4100 m asl that drains to the north (toward Xiangride 香日德). At least one +10-meter beach documents higher lake stands in the basin at some presently unknown earlier time. Our 2007 survey of this lake basin identified two surface localities on the +10-meter strandline containing bladelet and microblade technologies similar to those from Xiadawu. As it appears that Donggi Cona is periodically dammed by floodwater events where it discharges, it is possible that individual shorelines may have been occupied several times over long periods. We found multiple archaeological sites on various shorelines and initially thought they might be of assistance in dating lake level fluctuation. However, if the lake’s level is not climate controlled, the presence of these cultural remains may not be of great utility in understanding its complex history. Future work on the Donggi Cona shorelines will include the collection of multiple ostracod and/or pollen samples from laminated deeper water sediments and/or Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) samples from the sandy shoreline to help resolve these difficult chronometric problems (e.g., Wang et al. 2004).
Excavations in Tu Jiu Rockshelter
Originally tested in 2005,
our team returned to Tu Jiu
Rockshelter (秃鹫小洞), west of Dulan
(杜兰县), in 2007 and extended our trial excavation down to a
depth of 3.3 meters below the present ground surface. We identified a hearth below one previously
dated at roughly 3,900 radiocarbon years ago and encountered a layer of sheep
dung underlying this feature. Should
these fecal pellet samples yield dates of 4-5,000 calendar years old or older,
we will attempt to extract DNA and define what may be some of the earliest
evidence for sheep domestication in
2006 Modeling plateau peoples: the early human use of the world's high plateaux. World Archaeology.38(3): 357-370.
Aldenderfer, M. and Y. Zhang
The prehistory of the Tibetan Plateau to the 7th C. AD: Perspectives
and research from
2002 Arjun 3--a Middle Paleolithic site in the Deokuri Valley, Nepal. Man and Environment 27: 31-44.
1909 (1999) Trans
Hou, G., and Liu, F.
2004 Pre-history and climate
change of eastern
James, H. and M. Petraglia
Modern human origins and the evolution of behavior in the later Pleistocene
Liu, F., Hou, G., Zhang, Y., Zhang, Z., Xu, C., Zhou, Q., and Zhang, H.
2005 The impact of abrupt
climate change in mid-Holocene on the prehistoric culture in northeast
Wang, J., and Xiong, W.
2004 Relationship between the
ancients’ migration and climate change in the later period of late Pleistocene
Yuan, B., Huang, W., and D. Zhang
evidence for human occupation of the northern