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A regional record of expanded Holocene wetlands and prehistoric human occupation from paleowetland deposits of the western Yarlung Tsangpo valley, southern Tibetan Plateau

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Adam M. Hudson*
Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, 85721, USA
John W. Olsen
School of Anthropology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, 85721, USA
Jay Quade
Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, 85721, USA
Guoliang Lei
College of Geographical Sciences, Fujian Normal University, Fujian, 350007, China
Tyler E. Huth
Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA
Hucai Zhang
College of Tourism and Geography, Yunnan Normal University, Kunming, 650500, China


The Asian Monsoon, which brings ~80% of annual precipitation to much of the Tibetan Plateau, provides runoff to major rivers across the Asian continent. Paleoclimate records indicate summer insolation and North Atlantic paleotemperature changes forced variations in monsoon rainfall through the Holocene, resulting in hydrologic and ecologic changes in plateau watersheds. We present a record of Holocene hydrologic variability in the Yarlung Tsangpo (YT) valley of the southern Tibetan Plateau, based on sedimentology and 14C dating of organic-rich black mats’ in paleowetlands deposits, that shows changes in wetlands extent in response to changing monsoon intensity. Four sedimentary units indicate decreasing monsoon intensity since 10.4 ka BP. Wet conditions occurred at ~10.4 ka BP, ~9.6 ka BP and ~7.9–4.8 ka BP, with similar-to-modern conditions from ~4.6–2.0 ka BP, and drier-than-modern conditions from ~2.0 ka BP to present. Wetland changes correlate with monsoon intensity changes identified in nearby records, with weak monsoon intervals corresponding to desiccation and erosion of wetlands. Dating of in situ ceramic and microlithic artifacts within the wetlands indicates Epipaleolithic human occupation of the YT valley after 6.6 ka BP, supporting evidence for widespread colonization of the Tibetan Plateau in the early and mid-Holocene during warm, wet post-glacial conditions.

Research Article
Copyright © American Quaternary Association 2016 

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