Knowing when the Tibetan Plateau reached its present elevation is important for understanding the uplift history of Tibet. Recently, Rowley & Currie (2006) suggested that central Tibet exceeded 4000 m from 35 Ma to the Pliocene using the oxygen-isotope composition of calcareous minerals in Lunpola basin sediments. However, they adopted a poor age assignment for the Dingqing Formation in the Lunpola basin based on previous microfossil studies. In this study, we present SIMS U–Pb zircon dates from a bentonite layer intercalated within the middle to lower Dingqing Formation. Twenty-six measurements yield a highly reliable U–Pb age of 23.5 ± 0.2 Ma (2σ, MSWD = 1.1), suggesting that the deposition age of the Dingqing Formation is late Oligocene to early Miocene, much older than the Miocene–Pliocene age used by Rowley & Currie (2006). This age robustly constrains the age of Cenozoic sedimentary strata in central Tibet, and hence provides an important basis for estimating the palaeoelevation in the high Tibet during the geological past.