Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 255–269 | Cite as

Moving agriculture onto the Tibetan plateau: the archaeobotanical evidence

  • Jade d’Alpoim GuedesEmail author
  • Hongliang Lu
  • Yongxian Li
  • Robert N. Spengler
  • Xiaohong Wu
  • Mark S. Aldenderfer
Original Paper


The Tibetan Plateau has one of the least hospitable environments for agriculture on the planet; however, its inhabitants have developed an economic system based on agriculture and pastoralism suited to it’s geoenvironmental stressors. Little is known about the timing of the spread of agriculture onto the plateau or how agricultural systems were adapted to this environment. In this article, we present palaeoethnobotanical data from two sites, Changdu Karuo (c. 2700–2300 cal B.C.) and Kyung-lung Mesa (A.D. 220–334 and A.D. 694–880). In addition, we synthesize previously reported data (much of which has never been published in peer-reviewed journals). We argue that the earliest agriculture was based on millets (broomcorn and foxtail) and was accompanied by a pig-based economic system. This early economy, which likely originated in western China, was later replaced by a better adapted system, similar to those identified in Central Asia. The later system was based on crops such as wheat, barley, peas, and millets, as well as sheep and goat pastoralism. Wild resources obtained through hunting, fishing, and foraging appear to have been complements to the diet on the Tibetan Plateau.


Agriculture Pastoralism Archaeobotany Tibet Economy 



Generous support for this research was given by the National Geographic Society Committee for Research and Exploration (Grant 7468–03) to Aldenderfer, by the Wenner Gren (gr. 8183) and ACLS and Henry Luce Foundation to d’Alpoim Guedes, and by the State Ministry of Sciences in China (Grant 2010BAK67B01) to Wu. The authors would like to thank Richard Meadow and Rowan Flad for their comments on drafts of this article as well as John Mac Marston, Gary Crawford, and Dorian Fuller for their advice and help with identifications. We are also grateful to Zhang Qian for her help in the laboratory at Sichuan University.

Supplementary material

12520_2013_153_MOESM1_ESM.doc (306 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 306 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jade d’Alpoim Guedes
    • 1
    Email author
  • Hongliang Lu
    • 2
  • Yongxian Li
    • 2
  • Robert N. Spengler
    • 3
  • Xiaohong Wu
    • 4
  • Mark S. Aldenderfer
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Department of ArchaeologySichuan UniversityChengduPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyWashington UniversitySt. LouisUSA
  4. 4.School of Archaeology and MuseologyPeking UniversityBeijingChina
  5. 5.School of Social Sciences, Humanities and ArtsUniversity of California, MercedMercedUSA

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