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Photos: Human Footprints Help Date Ancient Tibetan Site

Smudge or evidence

tibetan plateau oldest prints

(Image credit: Mark Aldenderfer)

This handprint, found in the high mountains of Tibet in 2006, may have been left by residents more than 12,000 years ago.

Read the full story about this remarkable finding.

Old details

tibetan plateau oldest prints

(Image credit: Mark Aldenderfer)

This handprint, imaged also in 2006, is one of the clearest images found in Chusang. The site was discovered in 1998.

Mountains high

tibetan plateau oldest prints

(Image credit: Mark Aldenderfer)

Chusang, a site situated in the central plateau of the highest Himalayan ranges, features 19 human handprints and footprints at this western-facing overlook.

Ancient mountains

tibetan plateau oldest prints

(Image credit: Mark Aldenderfer)

Permanent residents are now believed to have resided here in the high mountains of Tibet at least 2,000 years earlier than previously thought.

First peoples

tibetan plateau oldest prints

(Image credit: Mark Aldenderfer)

The high mountains of Tibet were believed to be more recently populated, but evidence is showing much older residents. The team used three separate techniques to more accurately date the site.

Historic pilgrimmages

tibetan plateau oldest prints

(Image credit: Mark Aldenderfer)

At another nearby location, stone tools were located. This valley, seen from that location, reveals the chorten, a Buddhist shrine.

Footprint myths

tibetan plateau oldest prints

(Image credit: Mark Aldenderfer)

The handprints and footprints are found near this chorten, or Buddhist shrine. Years of pilgrimages to honor Milarepa, a yogi and poet, at the site have smoothed the old prints. Locals attribute the impressions to him.

Clear digits

tibetan plateau oldest prints

(Image credit: Mark Aldenderfer)

These imprints were created under the weight of a human body when the travertine was forming in the hot spring, as evidenced by the continuous layers below them. Individual toes are still visible.

Past and present

tibetan plateau oldest prints

(Image credit: Robbie Stone)

One technique used to test the site is optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) which enlisted the Risø luminescence reader and its single-grain attachment found at the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

Glowing bright

tibetan plateau oldest prints

(Image credit: Robbie Stone)

The single-grain attachment with its green laser evaluated the luminescence held within a single sand-size grain of quartz.

Genetic component

tibetan plateau oldest prints

(Image credit: Luke Gliganic)

Experts now approximate that Chusang was settled between 7,400 and 12,600 years ago. This jives with genetic data from earlier studies that postulated the Tibetan people reached the high central plateau between 8,000 and 8,400 years ago.