Airdate: Jun 15, 2007
Scientist: Mark Aldenderfer
Science Diary: Exploring Tibet-Palimpsest
Understanding an archeological site means sifting through thousands of years of debris.
Welcome to Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. We’re with Anthropologist Mark Aldenderfer on the wind-blown plateau of western Tibet. He’s been surveying an archaeological site here that demonstrates the challenge of reconstructing the lives of ancient peoples. They’ve found everything from a modern nomad camp to debris from ancient stone tool making, sitting side by side.
“The archaeology that we found yesterday was absolutely fascinating. We found another very large village that should date between 500BC and 100AD. A huge number of houses, probably fifty-plus. The architecture on these is very well preserved for the most part. It's just a very spectacular find for the kinds of things we want. We also found on the same basic terrace, a kind of a palimpsest. A palimpsest is taken from ancient times when a piece of papyrus or some other kind of paper would be written on, erased, then written upon again, then erased, then written upon again. Archaeologists use the word palimpsest to describe sites that have multiple components on them. So, we found that the site had a modern pastoral camp. It then had a tent ring of some not too great antiquity, but not recent either. It then had a series of cobblestone houses -- all we have are the foundations. Don't know the age of these yet. And then finally, the last component on the site turns out to be a Paleolithic site -- a stray find of some debris. Someone knocked off a few chunks, and then moved on. So this particular terrace had a very large number of components to it.”
Paleolithic refers to artifacts from before about 10,000 BC. This one site has at least 12,000 years of human debris to untangle, something that Mark Aldenderfer will have to figure out in order understand the movement of people in this area. Please visit our website at pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation.