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For many years, a cluster of closely spaced hands and footprints imprinted in limestone in a mountain region of Tibet north of Lhasa approximately 14,000 feet above sea level have been a source of wonder and fear for the local people who believed that they had been created by ‘legendary monsters’ who were said to stalk the area. However, according to researchers from the Universities of California and Innsbruck, the reality may be a little more mundane than the myth.
Discovery of ancient human footprints may help Tibet’s quest for independence
The team of researchers investigated the region and, using radiocarbon dating, estimated that the unusual markings were made by human beings between 7,400 and 12,700 years ago. While this conclusion is significantly less exciting than the possibility of Tibetan monsters, it is still a monumental archaeological discovery. These prints predate the archaeological evidence of the first permanent settlements in this particular region of Tibet by well over two thousand years. This suggests that during the last glacial maximum, human beings were more audacious in their migration patterns than had been previously considered by specialists in ancient human history.
This incredible discovery has been marred slightly by the political problems it posts. Since 1951, the Chinese government have considered Tibet to be one of their official territories. Currently, Tibet has an autonomous status under international law but is still considered to be officially part of the Chinese state.
For many years, historians have hotly debated the extent to which the Chinese dynasties influenced Tibet. The Qing Dynasty dominated the region from 1720 onwards but after the revolution and the collapse of the Qing Dynasty, Tibet officially declared its independence from what was then the Republic of China. Their independent status was declared void by Chairman Mao following the Communist takeover of the country and waged war against the people of Tibet with the goal of re-taking the territory. Eventually, the Chinese forces overcame the Tibetans and the region was re-absorbed into the Chinese state.
Mao’s argument, and indeed, the arguments of the current Chinese administration hinge on the presumption that the ancient Chinese and ancient Tibetan people are part of the same ethnic and cultural grouping. This claim has been disputed by historians from Tibet itself who claim that their society was distinct from the rest of the civilisations that comprised the states of China in ancient times.
These competing claims have triggered a vigorous debate over ancient artefacts recovered in the region with both sides presenting archaeological finds in a hotly contentious political context. For instance, Chinese state funded researchers have presented Stone Age pottery from Tibet and the Yellow River Basin which share a number of structural similarities which would suggest that they originated from intertwined societies. However, now it is appears that those wish to prove that Tibetan culture is distinct from the rest of China may have been handed a trump card. The dating of these hand and footprints suggests that there were people in Tibet long before the ancient Chinese people migrated to the area. This suggests that the Chinese and the Tibetans do not share a common ancient history after all.
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