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09 SEP 2022 (FRI)

Updated: Sep 14, 2022



Pre-historic humans’ exploration of and adaptation to the adverse environment on Tibetan Plateau

陳發虎院士 Prof. Academician Chen Fahu


English version is upcoming.

Date: 09 September 2022 (Friday)

Time: 15:00 – 16:30 (HKT)

Venue: via Zoom

Language: Putonghua (Simultaneous Interpretation in English)

(Zoom details will be provided upon successful registration)



The main area of the Tibetan Plateau (TP) is located at an altitude of more than 4000 m, with the terrain rising generally from the southeast to the northwest. Except for the mountain forest vegetation in the southeast, the main vegetation on TP includes alpine meadows, alpine grasslands, desert grasslands and deserts. Due to the adverse conditions, such as resource scarcity, low temperatures and hypoxia, TP is one of the most challenging areas for humans to survive. There are currently about 3 million people living on TP, mainly Tibetans and Sherpas who have special genes associated with hypoxia adaptation, such as EPAS1. The history and mechanism of human exploration and settlement on the TP had always attracted academic attention. This report divides the history of human exploration and settlement on the TP into the following stages. Stage 1: Physiological adaptation of Denisovans to low temperature and hypoxia environments. Denisovans may have obtained hypoxia adaptation genes in the long history of occupying the TP, which helped archaic hominins acquire physiological mechanisms capable of surviving in high-altitude environments. Stage 2: Homo sapiens “borrowed” genes from Denisovans to explore the high altitude of TP. By gene flow form Denisovans, Homo sapiens may obtain adaptive genes to support their active exploration of the central TP. Stage 3: The microlithic hunter-gathers acquired resources on TP through seasonal migration. Since the last deglaciation period, more and more microlithic hunter-gathers appeared on the TP and fully use animal resources on the TP through seasonal fishing and hunting, which indicates the start of the cultural adaptation of humans to the high-altitude environment. Stage 4: Agricultural development promoted large-scale permanent settlement on the TP. The East-West transcontinental exchange culture brought wheat and barley, which contributed to the agricultural technological innovation of millet farmers. Through the development of a high-altitude barley-nomadic economy, Neolithic humans gradually formed their special cultural adaptation to the TP. Stage 5: Both human activities and climate change drive the impacts on the TP environment. Humans have taken the initiative to transform the extreme environment of the TP. Meanwhile, climate change has strongly affected the social and economic development of humans on the TP. Under this background, the former Tubo (the Zhang-Zhung Kingdom in the west, the Yalong tribe in the Yajiang River and the Supi tribe in the East) and the Tubo Empire formed a unique alpine civilization on the TP. This report only focuses on the first three stages.

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