A study involving human living conditions at high altitudes found that people likely moved to the Tibetan Plateau 3,600 years ago. These findings were announced Thursday by the researchers involved, after exploring 53 archeological sites in Qinghai province in northwestern China where they found remnants of rustic structures, hearths, pottery, animal bones, cereal grains and other evidence of human habitation from 5,600 feet to 11,000 feet above sea level.
The Tibetan plateau is known as “the roof of the world” because of growing altitude-resistant crops and raising livestock, according to a study published in the US journal Science. The early inhabitants survived on wheat and barley imported from the so-called “Fertile Crescent” in the Middle East and on transplants from China such as broomcorn and foxtail millet, according to the researchers from Britain’s Cambridge University, China and the United States.
Animal teeth, bones and plant deposits were the main resources for this study. The researchers examined the remains of pigs, sheep and cattle as well as plants at 53 sites across the northern Tibetan plateau.
“Year-round survival at these altitudes must have led to some very challenging conditions indeed,”
said lead researcher Martin Jones from Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology.
“This poses further, interesting questions for researchers about the adaptation of humans, livestock and crops to life at such dizzying heights.”
But one interesting fact results from this current study, as Jones explained the findings could have an impact on modern-day food security, as most of our foods today are grown in the lowlands.
Despite the fact that early settlers are likely to have made their way up the plateau in pursuit of prey as long as 20,000 years ago, more recent ones were more likely driven there by cold weather, Dr. Fahu Chen, an archaeologist at Lanzhou University in China and one of the lead author of the study, wrote in an email.
He explained that as the temperature drops,
“people need to move to a new uninhabited region or improve technology to get enough food resources.”
Livestock also were important in sustaining the settlements. The researchers said domesticated sheep arrived at about the same time as barley and wheat. Jones said these people not only conquered the extreme altitude raising livestock and growing crops, but their expansion into the higher, colder heights occurred as the temperatures on continent were becoming colder.