Between 7,400 and 12,600 years ago, Tibetans would survive in the Himalayas year round. The original estimation was closer to 5,000 years ago, but new studies indicate it was far longer ago.
When humans dispersed from Africa and began spreading throughout the world, it was unclear when they finally settled in Tibet. The region’s central plateau sits at an elevation of 14,000 feet, so it’s quite remarkable that they were able to survive this at all.
Chusang is widely believed to be the first permanent settlement in the region, one which was used long before people began using agriculture in Tibet. This occurred despite the fact that Tibet was actually more humid than it is today.
In 1998, researchers first recognized clear signs of ancient human occupation in the form of 19 human hand-prints and footprints, but it was unclear how long ago they were created.
The Tibetan Empire emerged several thousand years later in the 7th Century AD, under the rule of Songtsan Gampo. It is believed that his first wife was the Princess of Nepal, who played an instrumental role in establishing Buddhism in Tibet. In 640, he married Princess Wencheng, the niece of Chinese emperor Taizong of Tang China.
Under subsequent Tibetan kings, Buddhism became solidified as the state religion and Tibetan power increased with it. But by the 800’s, an Era of Fragmentation took over, dividing political control over Tibet between tribes and warlords.
Over the next 500 years, several invasions and subsequent wars would take place over the barren region. The Mongols were repeat invaders during this time, and ultimately created the Mongol Yuan dynasty in 1294. Yuan’s control of the region would last all the way until the Ming overthrow of the Yuan and Tai Situ Changchub Gyaltsen’s revolt against the Mongols. Soon afterwards, the Phagmodrupa Dynasty was founded, seeking to reduce Yuan influences over Tibetan culture.
Modern day Tibetans share partial genetic similarities to the Paleolithic inhabitants of thousands of years ago. A lot of this has to do with the relative seclusion of the Tibetan plateau from the rest of the world. With a massive mountain range blocking them from the south, and thousands of miles of barren wilderness surrounding them in all other directions, many Tibetans have resided in the area through several generations.
It’s a lot easier to live in this region with today’s conveniences, but can you imagine living here before electricity existed? To many thousands of ancient Tibetans, this was their reality.
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) November 20, 2015