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Tibetan nomads: 'high' living ....

Tibetan nomads: "High' living . . .

The Phala nomads of western Tibet roam an extensivemountain plateau at the highest known altitude for a human population, ranging from 16,000 to 18,000 feet above sea level. They live in one of the world's harshest environments, where snow in July is not unusual and winter temperatures drop to -40|F. Preliminary results of the first investigation by Western scientists of these hardy wanderers' cultural and physiological adaptations were presented last week at a National Academy of Sciences symposium in Washington, D.C.

The project is headed by anthropologist Melvyn Goldstein ofCase Western Reserve University in Cleveland, working in collaboration with the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences. The researchers made contact with 253 nomads in two months of fieldwork last summer. These individuals, says Goldstein, are organized into 55 families of about four or five people who live in animal-skin tents.

Three main activities were observed among Phala families.Products from goats, sheep and yak tended by each household are processed, mainly by the women. Milk, for example, is churned to obtain yogurt, butter and cheese. Animal skins are used to store butter and cheese.

Men, on the other hand, hunt the bountiful wildlife along theplateau, says Goldstein. Prey includes antelope and wild yak and sheep. Dogs are trained to run down and corner sheep along craggy mountainsides until hunters can approach with homemade guns that they set on the ground and ignite by lighting a wick with flint.

Although it takes three weeks to reach the nearest village,Phala men also engage in fairly consistent trade, mainly for barley flour, notes Goldstein. Success in trading may help to explain why some families have more resources and are "wealthier' than others. All nomadic groups in Tibet, a southwestern province of China, were forced into a commune system during the Cultural Revolution, says Goldstein. The family became the basic unit of the Phala economy around 1981 with the rise of a new Chinese power structure, and the nomads report that their standard of living has improved since then.

Goldstein and his co-workers will return to Tibet thissummer and conduct a 13-month study of Phala life, including the nomads' adaptations to the extreme Tibetan winter.
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Title Annotation:anthropological study
Publication:Science News
Date:May 16, 1987
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