Middle Stone Age foragers resided in high elevations of the glaciated Bale Mountains, Ethiopia

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Science  09 Aug 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6453, pp. 583-587
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw8942

Middle Stone Age humans in high-altitude Africa

Recent archaeological research has produced evidence of the earliest human occupation of high-altitude habitats in the Andes and the Tibetan Plateau. Ossendorf et al. now present the oldest evidence of human settlement and adaptation to areas above 4000-meter elevation in Africa (see the Perspective by Aldenderfer). Their excavations at a rock shelter in the Bale Mountains of Ethiopia reveal obsidian artifacts and faunal remains, including abundant burnt bones, mostly of giant mole-rats. The findings reveal the environmental conditions and show how Late Pleistocene humans adapted to the harsh environments of these glaciated high-altitude African landscapes.

Science, this issue p. 583; see also p. 541


Studies of early human settlement in alpine environments provide insights into human physiological, genetic, and cultural adaptation potentials. Although Late and even Middle Pleistocene human presence has been recently documented on the Tibetan Plateau, little is known regarding the nature and context of early persistent human settlement in high elevations. Here, we report the earliest evidence of a prehistoric high-altitude residential site. Located in Africa’s largest alpine ecosystem, the repeated occupation of Fincha Habera rock shelter is dated to 47 to 31 thousand years ago. The available resources in cold and glaciated environments included the exploitation of an endemic rodent as a key food source, and this played a pivotal role in facilitating the occupation of this site by Late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers.

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