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Holocene glacier fluctuations and migration of Neolithic yak pastoralists into the high valleys of northwest Bhutan

Holocene glacier fluctuations and migration of Neolithic yak pastoralists into the high valleys of northwest Bhutan,10.1016/j.quascirev.2008.12.025,Qu

Holocene glacier fluctuations and migration of Neolithic yak pastoralists into the high valleys of northwest Bhutan   (Citations: 4)
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Here we present geomorphologic, palaeoenvironmental and archaeo-botanical data which elucidate the Late Pleistocene and Holocene glacial history of the high, mountain-locked Himalayan valleys in northwest Bhutan and provide one of the earliest proofs of human activity yet known for the High Himalaya range. In this area, difficult to access, close linkage between climatic change, glacier fluctuations and human migration patterns has been discovered. Glacier systems in the studied area are characterized by avalanching and debris mantled glacier snouts, with the significant local influence of the Indian summer monsoon causing decoupling of glacier responses from temperature changes but supporting the idea of monsoonal forcing. Geomorphologic mapping, together with Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) and radiocarbon dating of ice-proximal sediments, has been used to construct a local glacial chronology. Local ice-stream networks developed during the Early Holocene (ca 10,000–9000a ago) and during the early part of the Mid Holocene (6710±90–4680±155calaBP) at which times there were ice advances of about 5km from the modern glacier termini. At such times, the intensity of pro- and periglacial processes would have intensified and ice-dammed lakes were probably common as well, rendering human colonization of the high valleys in northwest Bhutan impossible. An abrupt shift to dry climatic conditions on the Tibetan Plateau between 5000 and 4500aBP coincided with glacial decay and the onset of morphodynamically stable conditions on the broad valley floors of the high valleys in this part of the Himalaya. Palynological data suggest that the sudden disappearance of juniper and rhododendron pollen, the immediate onset of pollen input from cereals (confirmed by detailed SEM analysis) and a clear pattern of over-grazing, trampling and peat deterioration can be linked to human arrival in the valleys at ca 4280±130calaBP. Extensive charcoal horizons dating to 4745±250 and 4680±155calaBP are interpreted as evidence for human use of fire and forest clearances and agree spatially and temporally with the pollen-based picture. Charcoal occurrences as old as 6710±90calaBP might be linked to yet earlier exploration of these Himalayan valleys during phases of low glacial activity. We provide an account of the colonization of these high valleys in response to glacial and monsoonal change and argue that the most likely founder societies come from the Tibetan Plateau, where yak and barley based pastoralism and Neolithic settlements are known to have existed since the Mid Holocene.
Journal: Quaternary Science Reviews - QUATERNARY SCI REV , vol. 28, no. 13, pp. 1217-1237, 2009
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