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The earliest evidence for a microblade adaptation in the remote, high altitude regions of the Tibetan Plateau

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Abstract

Microblade assemblages are among the most common prehistoric archaeological materials found on the Tibetan Plateau (TP) and are thought to indicate large scale migration to and settlement of the TP. Few microblade sites, however, have been systematically excavated, especially in the remotest, highest-elevation regions of the TP. The timing of the large-scale arrival, spread, and permanent settlement of people on the TP therefore remains controversial. In this paper, we report on a recently excavated site, Locality 3 of the Nwya Devu Site (ND3), located at 4600 meters above sea level (masl), near the shore of Ngoin Lake, on the interior TP. Our analyses reveal a fairly typical microblade technological orientation and two types of microblade cores: wedge-shaped and semi-conical, which are similar to those found throughout North China. Using Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating and AMS 14C dating, the age of ND3 ranges from 11 to 10 ka. This date range indicates ND3 is the oldest microblade site yet recorded in the remote, high-elevation regions of the TP and thus provides important information about when and how hunter-gatherers using microblades began exploiting the higher altitudes of the TP. Taken together, studies at ND3 and throughout the TP suggest that a microblade adaptation is associated with the first prolonged human occupation of the plateau and that microblades played a significant role in mediating the risks and facilitating the mobility necessary to permanently inhabit the TP.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the Xizang Autonomous Region Cultural Relics Bureau, Shenza County Cultural Bureau, and the Party Committee of Xiongmei Township of the Communist Party of China (CPC) for their support of the fieldwork. We thank Dr Yuchao ZHAO, Dr Peiqi ZHANG and Dr Chao HUANG for their participation during the field and laboratory work. This study was supported by the National Key Research and Development Project of China (Grant No. 2021YFC1523603), the Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition and Research (Grant No. 2019QZKK0601), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 42072033 & 41977380), and the National Social Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 23&ZD268 & 21@WTK001).

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Jin, Y., Zhang, X., Wang, S. et al. The earliest evidence for a microblade adaptation in the remote, high altitude regions of the Tibetan Plateau. Sci. China Earth Sci. 67, 1561–1573 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11430-023-1317-3

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