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Farming and multi-resource subsistence in the third and second millennium BC: archaeobotanical evidence from Karuo

Abstract

Over the past years, archaeobotanical studies have clarified much of the process of dispersal and adaptation of crops across Asia. However, the development of farming systems that could function in the high-altitude environments of Tibet requires more in-depth consideration. In this article, we present the results of the systematic archaeobotanical investigation at Karuo, a third millennium BC site in eastern Tibet. We argue that millet cultivation was possibly practiced at the site and that it was likely an important aspect of the economy from 2700 to 2100 cal. BC. The role of millet in the cultivation system might have declined after the mid-second millennium BC, during which time wheat—a grain originating in southwest Asia—appeared at the site. In addition to farming, evidence of foraging, hunting, and fishing are present suggesting a diverse subsistence strategy. The diversification of human diets may have contributed to the long-term occupation of the site. Taking a broad regional perspective into account, the diverse spectrum of subsistence strategy engaged by Karuo people provides new insights into the understanding of early lifeways on the Tibetan Plateau.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank Jingang Yang for his help with archaeobotanical identification, Qian Zhang and Jiafen Cheng for their assistance in collecting samples and carrying out flotation. We are also grateful to Bin Tang for providing the survey map, to Xingyi Guo for support in visual presentation, and to Dr. Richard Staff for conducting small graphite radiocarbon analyses at ORAU. Special thanks are given to Dr. Robert Spengler for proofreading the manuscript and providing insightful comments in the review process. The research was supported by the General Programs of the National Social Science Fund of China (Grant No. 16BKG001) and Chinese Academy of Sciences (the Strategic Priority Research Program, Grant No. XDA2004010104). We would also like to acknowledge the European Research Council (Grant No. 249642, PI: M.K. Jones) and the National Science Foundation (Grant No. 1826727, PI: X. Liu) for support.

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Song, J., Gao, Y., Tang, L. et al. Farming and multi-resource subsistence in the third and second millennium BC: archaeobotanical evidence from Karuo. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 13, 47 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-021-01281-9

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Keywords

  • Millet
  • Wheat
  • Tibet
  • Dietary diversity
  • Adaptation