Tech News

Prehistoric mobility among Tibetan farmers, herders shaped highland settlement patterns, cultural interaction, study finds


Newswise — The million-square-mile Tibetan Plateau — often called the “roof of the world” — is the highest landmass in the world, with an average elevation of 14,000 feet. Despite an extreme environment, humans have been permanent inhabitants there since prehistoric times.

Agriculture and livestock farming play a major role in the economy of the Tibetan Plateau today, as they have throughout history. To make the most of a challenging environment, mobile farmers, agropastoralists, and pastoralists interact and move in conjunction with each other, shaping the overall economy and cultural geography of the plateau.

A new study by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and Sichuan University in China, published February 2 in Scientific reports, traces the roots of long-standing cultural interactions on the Tibetan Plateau back to prehistory, as early as the Bronze Age.

Researchers used advanced geospatial modeling to compare environmental and archaeological evidence that links ancient mobility and subsistence strategies to cultural connections forged between farmers and herders in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Their findings show that these strategies influenced the settlement pattern and transfer of ceramic styles – such as the materials used, characteristics and decorative elements of the pottery – between prehistoric communities far from the plateau.

The research was a huge undertaking made possible by advances in geospatial data analysis and high-resolution remote sensing, according to Michel Frachettiprofessor of archeology in arts and sciences at WashU and corresponding author of the study.

First, the researchers generated simulations of the optimal mobility routes used by prehistoric farmers and herders, based on land cover and the environment’s ability to meet the needs of their crops or herds. For example, upland herders typically move through areas rich in herbaceous resources to the more limited arable niches of the plateau. The repeated patterns emerging from these simulations were shown to be statistically correlated with the geographic location of thousands of prehistoric sites across the Tibetan Plateau.

To test how these routes may have affected social interaction, the team compiled a large database of published archaeological finds from Bronze and Iron Age sites across Tibet and generated a social network based on shared technologies and designs of ceramics found in these sites. The resulting social network suggests that even remote sites were well connected and in communication thousands of years ago across the Tibetan landmass.

“When we overlay mobility maps with the social network, we see a strong correlation between subsistence-oriented mobility routes and close material culture ties between regional communities, suggesting the emergence of “mobility highways “over centuries of use,” Frachetti said. . “This tells us not only that people moved based on agricultural and livestock needs – which were largely influenced by environmental potential – but that mobility was essential to building social relationships and regional character ancient communities of the Tibetan plateau.”

Their findings also revealed an interesting caveat: the western part of Tibet did not fit these models as well as the eastern part. According to the authors, this suggests an alternative cultural orientation to Central Asia, where similar mobility patterns linked prehistoric communities to the west. These east/west differences were observed in other archaeological studiesthey said.

“Archaeologists have sought for decades to understand how and why ancient human communities constructed social relationships and cultural identities in the extreme terrains of Tibet,” said lead author Xinzhou Chen, who received his doctorate from WashU in 2023 and now works at the Research Center. Archaeological Sciences at Sichuan University. “This research offers a new perspective for exploring the formation of human social cohesion in archaeology.”


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button