Paleoindian settlement of the high-altitude Peruvian Andes

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Science  24 Oct 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6208, pp. 466-469
DOI: 10.1126/science.1258260

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Mountain dwellers of the Pleistocene

Humans colonized the inhospitable high Andes at least 11.5 thousand years ago. Rademaker et al. unearthed evidence of hunter-gatherer occupation at heights of almost 4500 m in Peru in two open-air sites. The sites contained more than 750 tools, including likely spearheads and scrapers. A nearby rockshelter with sooted ceilings and floor detritus may have been a campsite. The sites were probably used seasonally for hunting vicuña and other high-altitude prey.

Science, this issue p. 466


Study of human adaptation to extreme environments is important for understanding our cultural and genetic capacity for survival. The Pucuncho Basin in the southern Peruvian Andes contains the highest-altitude Pleistocene archaeological sites yet identified in the world, about 900 meters above confidently dated contemporary sites. The Pucuncho workshop site [4355 meters above sea level (masl)] includes two fishtail projectile points, which date to about 12.8 to 11.5 thousand years ago (ka). Cuncaicha rock shelter (4480 masl) has a robust, well-preserved, and well-dated occupation sequence spanning the past 12.4 thousand years (ky), with 21 dates older than 11.5 ka. Our results demonstrate that despite cold temperatures and low-oxygen conditions, hunter-gatherers colonized extreme high-altitude Andean environments in the Terminal Pleistocene, within about 2 ky of the initial entry of humans to South America.

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