Science China Earth Sciences

, Volume 59, Issue 9, pp 1765–1778 | Cite as

History and possible mechanisms of prehistoric human migration to the Tibetan Plateau

  • DongJu Zhang
  • GuangHui Dong
  • Hui Wang
  • XiaoYan Ren
  • PiPu’u Ha
  • MingRui Qiang
  • FaHu Chen
Research Paper Special Topic: Climate changes and human adaptation


Prehistoric human history on the Tibetan Plateau is a hotly debated topic. Archaeological research on the plateau during the past few decades has enormously improved our understanding of the topic and makes it possible for us to consider the processes and mechanisms of prehistoric human migration to the region. By reviewing the published archaeological research on the Tibetan Plateau, we propose that the first people on the plateau initially spread into the He-Huang region from the Chinese Loess Plateau, and then moved to the low elevation Northeastern Tibetan Plateau and perhaps subsequently to the entire plateau. This process consisted of four stages. (1) During the climatic amelioration of the Last Deglacial period (15–11.6 ka BP), Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers with a developed microlithic technology first spread into the Northeastern Tibetan Plateau. (2) In the early-mid Holocene (11.6–6 ka BP), Epipaleolithic microlithic hunter-gatherers were widely distributed on the northeastern plateau and spread southwards to the interior plateau, possibly with millet agriculture developed in the neighboring low elevation regions. (3) In the mid-late Holocene (6–4 ka BP), Neolithic millet farmers spread into low elevation river valleys in the northeastern and southeastern plateau areas. (4) In the late Holocene (4–2.3 ka BP), Bronze Age barley and wheat farmers further settled on the high elevation regions of the Tibetan Plateau, especially after 3.6 ka BP. Finally, we suggest that all of the reported Paleolithic sites earlier than the LGM on the Tibetan Plateau need further examination.


Tibetan Plateau Prehistoric archaeology Human migration Driving mechanisms 


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Copyright information

© Science China Press and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Western China’s Environmental Systems, Ministry of Education, College of Earth Environmental SciencesLanzhou UniversityLanzhouChina
  2. 2.Gansu Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeological ResearchLanzhouChina
  3. 3.Qinghai Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeological ResearchXiningChina
  4. 4.Cultural Relic Conservation InstituteLhasaChina

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