Skeletal Studies Indicate Ancient Peruvians Resided Permanently at 12,500 Feet
After using many different scientific approaches for a study appearing in the July issue of Royal Society Open Science, a team of researchers concluded that humans lived throughout the year in the Andean highlands of South America over 7,000 years ago.
Ancient Americans Occupied the Andean Highlands 7,000 Years Ago
It’s no secret that our ancestors were capable of adapting to all kinds of harsh environments around the world, and the population of the Andes mountain range is no exception. This, at least, is what a team of researchers led by University of Wyoming scientists has concluded after examining the human remains and other archaeological finds discovered in a location about 12,500 feet (3810m) above sea level in a wide area in southern Peru called the Andean Altiplano. By analyzing skeletal remains of sixteen people found at Soro Mik'aya Patjxa, scientists now suggest that the fearless and brave hunter-gatherers of both sexes survived at high elevation, frigid temperatures and exposure to wild animals and natural elements (such as lack of oxygen). Impressively, this was way before the advance of agriculture which usually made the settling down in a location much easier.
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Aerial view looking north-west across the excavation site of Soro Mik’aya Patjxa, located in a vast altiplano pampa near the center of the Ilave Basin. (Credit: Randall Haas)
"This gives us a very strong baseline to help understand the rates of cultural and genetic change in the Andean highlands, a region known for the domestication of alpaca, potatoes and other plants; emergence of state-level political and economic complexity; and rapid human adaptation to high-elevation life," Randy Haas, a postdoctoral research associate in the University of Wyoming's Department of Anthropology, and the team's leader told Archaeology News Network.
The study also says, “High-elevation environments above [8,000 feet] … were among the planet’s last frontiers of human colonization because of the challenges they posed. All observations are consistent with the expectations for permanent use of high-elevation environments, rather than use on a seasonal basis,” IBT reports.
A modern inhabitant at a market on the Andean Altiplano (CC0)
More Indications of Permanent Settlement
More signs that indicate a permanent occupation of the High Andes, consist in the fact that thousands of rock tools and other artifacts were made from material that could only be found locally. Many of these artifacts date back to 6,000 BC, a fact that has led some researchers to believe that the hunter-gatherers and their families could have begun living in the Andes almost 7,000 years ago, although it’s not clear if their presence back then was permanent or seasonal.
Archaeology News Network reports that the scientific team used many different scientific approaches in order to discover whether there was early permanent use of the region: a) studying the human bones for oxygen and carbon isotopes, b) the travel distances from the site to low-elevation zones, c) the demographic mixture of the human remains, d) the types of tools and other materials found with them.
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Indigenous Andean inhabitant with llamas and lambs (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
The scientists traced low oxygen and high carbon isotope values in the bones, a fact that reveals the permanent high-elevation occupation, while the travel distances to low-elevation zones were proven to be too long for seasonal human migration. "These results constitute the strongest evidence to date that people were living year-round in the Andean highlands at least 7,000 years ago," Haas tells Archaeology News Network and continues, "Such high-elevation environments were among the last frontiers of human colonization, and this knowledge holds implications for understanding rates of genetic, physiological and cultural adaption in the human species."
For more details, you can find the scientific conclusions of the research at the website of the Royal Society Open Science.
Top image: Hillside of Peruvian Ausangate mountain (CC BY-SA 3.0)