The Liangshan region is located at the intersection of several cultural-geographic regions in Southwest
China; it is dominated by the towering Hengduan Mountains, whose northesouth oriented ridges
channeled the early exchange along China’s western frontier. The archaeological material from this region therefore provides an ideal case study for research on mechanisms of cultural contact and their
environmental preconditions. This paper unlocks the research potential of the Liangshan region by first
providing an overview of local prehistoric cultural developments and their geographic preconditions,
focusing on signs of outside contacts and their possible origin; in a second step, it suggests routes and
types of contact and their motivations. I argue that questions of cultural identity, inter-group contact, and
humaneenvironment interaction cannot be treated separately but have to be considered in combination.
At the same time, the case at hand shows that the environment is not just a limiting or determining
factor: even marginal environments can be used in a variety of ways and do not necessarily lead to
conflict among neighboring populations. I therefore argue that in the emergence of contact networks and
acceptance of foreign traits, cultural decisions are just as important as and sometimes even more
important than geographic preconditions.