Although most of us think of Tibet as a high plateau riven by high mountain chains wide
open to the skies, it has a deep, hidden, and underground dimension as well—numerous
caves with extensive dark zones. Much of the plateau near Lhasa has a limestone geology, where natural
processes create caverns and rock shelters. Many caves and rock shelters in Tibet have also been created by people. For the past two millennia at least, rock faces have been hollowed and used for domestic purposes and, more commonly, as shelters for monks, lamas, and other religious figures. Indeed, the largemajority of caves on the plateau, both natural and artificial, are key elements in the sacred geography of Tibetan Buddhism.
Mark Aldenderfer is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Arizona.
His research interests include the archaeology of foraging societies, the emergence of persistent
leadership strategies, and the origins of social inequality. His methodological interests
include geographic information systems and the development of digital approaches to archaeological fieldwork. He has worked in North America and Mesoamerica, but is especially interested in high-elevation archaeology, and has worked on each of the world’s three high plateaus—Ethiopia, the Andes, and Tibet.