JUN 28, 2017 4:49 PM PDT

Humans lived permanently in the Andes as early as 7,000 years ago

Over 7,000 years ago, before agriculture had even taken hold in human subsistence, humans survived year-round in the harsh Andean mountains, reports a team from the University of Wyoming. The team looked at human remains and archaeological evidence from a site with an elevation of 12,500 feet in Peru and determined that hunter-gatherer people were able to live in the extreme conditions of low oxygen and cold temperatures.

Before the rise of agriculture, the Andes would have been a difficult place to make a home. Photo: Nature

"These results constitute the strongest evidence to date that people were living year-round in the Andean highlands at least 7,000 years ago," Randy Haas, the team’s leader, said. "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."

The researchers excavated the remains of 16 people and 80,000 artifacts that date back to 8,000 years ago. They came to their conclusion from several interdisciplinary methods, including studying the human bones for oxygen and carbon isotopes, assessing the travel distances from the site to low-elevation zones, analyzing the demographic mixture of the human remains, and classifying the types of tools and other materials found with them. There is further evidence that hunter-gatherers had been living in the Andes as early as 9,000 years ago, although it is uncertain if that was seasonally or permanently.

Their results point towards permanent high-elevation residency. For instance, the human bones had low oxygen and high carbon isotope values, which shows that the people were adapted to high-altitude living conditions. Additionally, the travel distances to low-elevation zones were too long for seasonal human migration and the presence of small children would have made migration very difficult. Furthermore, most of the tools the researchers found were made from stone from the highlands of the Andes.

The study explains the importance of this multi-method strategy explicitly, writing, “These independent lines of evidence converge to support a model of permanent occupation of high elevations and refute logistical and seasonal use models. The results constitute the strongest empirical support to date for permanent human occupation of the Andean highlands by hunter–gatherers before 7 ka.”

Haas adds that this discovery is crucial for filling in gaps about the genetic history of the region. "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," he says.

Sources: UPI, Science Daily, Royal Society Open Science

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
JAN 21, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Monitoring elephant populations with satellites and deep learning
JAN 21, 2021
Monitoring elephant populations with satellites and deep learning
An exciting development in conservation comes in the form of an automated system that captures high-resolution satellite ...
JAN 27, 2021
Earth & The Environment
How would nuclear war affect fisheries?
JAN 27, 2021
How would nuclear war affect fisheries?
New research published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment contemplates a post-apocalyptic world, ...
JAN 29, 2021
Earth & The Environment
The surprising sex lives of lichen
JAN 29, 2021
The surprising sex lives of lichen
Just like eavesdropping neighbors, scientists from Quebec's Université-Laval are peeping in on the shocking s ...
FEB 19, 2021
Microbiology
Weed Killers May Raise Levels of Antibiotic-Resistant Microbes in Soil
FEB 19, 2021
Weed Killers May Raise Levels of Antibiotic-Resistant Microbes in Soil
Chemicals that are designed to kill weeds, known as herbicides, can apparently raise the levels of antibiotic resistant ...
MAR 04, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Climate change tip: listen to the people
MAR 04, 2021
Climate change tip: listen to the people
A study published today in Nature Energy calls for governments and companies – and scientists – to list ...
APR 25, 2021
Microbiology
Plant-Eating Microbes Expand the Tree of Life
APR 25, 2021
Plant-Eating Microbes Expand the Tree of Life
After microbes called archaea were discovered in the 1970s, a branch was added to the tree of life after some debate, wh ...
Loading Comments...