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12,800-year-old campsite found at extreme altitude in Peruvian Andes

12,800-year-old campsite found at extreme altitude in Peruvian Andes

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A new report published in the journal Science has revealed the discovery of an ancient shelter, rock art, and a tool workshop at an altitude of nearly 14,700 feet (4,500 meters) above sea level. Dating back around 12,800 years, the prehistoric site is the oldest known evidence of humans living at an extreme altitude.

The discovery was made by archaeologist Kurt Rademaker and geologist Gordon Bromley in the Pucuncho Basin, a cold and arid plateau ringed by 21,000-foot-tall (6,400 meters) volcanoes in the southern Peruvian Andes. They had previously found arrowheads at 4,355 meters, pointing to the possibility of finding Paleoindian settlements at high-altitude.

Andes Mountains

Research has revealed that Paleoindians made settlements at extremely high altitude in the Andes mountains. ( Wikipedia)

Over the course of several years since 2009, Rademaker and colleagues uncovered hundreds of stone tools and projectile points at three archaeological sites in the Pucuncho Basin and now, they have uncovered an ancient base camp. The settlement consists of a shelter containing rock art, ceilings covered in soot from campfires, plant remains that came from lower elevations, animal bones, and a nearby open air tool-making workshop. Testing revealed that the tools date back as far as 12,800 years ago, while there is evidence that the campsite was in use for thousands of years from around 12,400 years ago.

A Paleoindian campsite

A Paleoindian campsite. ( Goldposters)

The findings suggest people were living at high altitudes earlier than previously thought – just 2,000 years after humans supposedly reached the continent. This raises questions about how these early settlers physically adapted to such a high altitude – at such extreme altitudes, humans risk dying of hypoxia (lack of oxygen) and other associated complications.

"Either they genetically adapted really, really fast — within 2,000 years — to be able to settle this area, or genetic adaptation isn't necessary at all," said Rademaker. A third hypothesis not mentioned by the study authors is that humans inhabited the region much earlier than 15,000 years ago. 

Featured image: Archaeologists excavate a rockshelter in the Peruvian Andes that was used more than 12,000 years ago by human settlers. Credit: Kurt Rademaker

By April Holloway

Comments

Your idea on the deluge survivors seems very probable to me. I hadn't thought of it that way. Thanks.

Tsurugi's picture

Fascinating. Why would they choose to live at such high elevations?

A lot of the Peruvian Andes have the remains of ancient terracing on their slopes. Some of the terraces climb all the way to the glacial ice and apparently continue on beneath it! I have wondered if perhaps the terraces were constructed gradually, but starting from the top instead of the bottom...deluge survivors, perhaps? Following the slow retreat of the water, gradually making their way down the mountainsides....

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