Xinzhou Chen

Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2023

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Previous archaeological research has made significant advances in our understanding of the chrono-spatial patterns of ancient human occupation of the Tibetan Plateau based on archaeobotanical, zooarchaeological, and material cultural analysis. The surge of archaeological data in prehistoric Tibet calls for further analysis of the potential social and environmental forces that shaped the prehistoric landscapes of Tibet. This dissertation presents a synthetic analysis of the role of pastoralism in shaping the economy, materiality, and mobility of Tibetan societies in the second and first millennium BC. Based on both previously published archaeological evidence and my own analysis of newly documented archaeological data, I argue that pastoralism can be seen as a social institution that is shaped and reproduced through participation, which fundamentally changes the ecological and cultural landscapes of Tibet in the second and first millennium BC. This research tackles this theme using a multi-methodological approach that includes survey archaeology, excavation, geospatial modeling, and network analysis. I present early pastoralism in Tibet through the lens of emergent institutions that structured the geographic patterns of settlement, cultural interactions and patterns of landscape organizations under changing cultural conditions at both local and trans-regional scales. My research also combines traditional archaeological material culture analysis with landscape archaeology and geospatial analysis in Tibet. My exploratory archaeological survey is the first survey of pastoralist landscapes by identifying and interpreting the long-term ecological and social formation of pastoralist sites across eco-zones in the mountainous regions of Tibet. The research contributes to our understanding of emerging pastoralism in prehistoric Tibet, as well as its durability as a persistent and contemporary tradition on the Tibetan Plateau. At a local scale, I analyzed the material remains of an agropastoral settlement in the first millennium BC, Bangga, suggesting that ancient people occupied Bangga and practiced settled pastoralism in a changing cultural context. In addition to the archaeology in Bangga, I also conducted an exploratory archaeological survey in the Shannan region based on the hypothesis that pastoral activities are continuous through time and space. The survey successfully identified two prehistoric pastoral corrals, Badong and Yukang. Both sites are repeatedly used in prehistoric, historic, and modern times. According to the results of material culture analysis, radiocarbon dating, excavations, ethnoarchaeological GIS analysis, and soil erosion models on those two sites, I further argue that the human-environmental feedback possibly facilities the reproduction of pastoralism on a local scale. At a trans-regional scale, I developed two new geospatial models, coupled with a comprehensive material cultural analysis that interprets how Tibet's cultural landscape is associated with pastoral mobility networks. The pastoral mobility network is constructed under the assumption that herds travel along the best vegetation; the cultural landscape is represented by a social network based on the similarity of ceramics. I discover that the settlement pattern of Tibet between 3600 and 2200 BP is significantly correlated with the pastoral networks. The pastoral network is broadly similar to the ceramic social network, especially in eastern Tibet. The trans-Himalayan participation explains the discrepancies between the pastoral mobility networks and the ceramic social networks and is again validated by a contextual analysis of the newly discovered bronze mirrors in Tibet.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Michael Frachetti

Committee Members

Mark Aldendefer, Sarah Baitzel, Geoff Childs, Xinyi Liu,