OPEN Royal Society open science | 7 Jul 2017
R Haas, IC Stefanescu, A Garcia-Putnam, MS Aldenderfer, MT Clementz, MS Murphy, CV Llave and JT Watson
High-elevation environments above 2500 metres above sea level (m.a.s.l.) were among the planet’s last frontiers of human colonization. Research on the speed and tempo of this colonization process is active and holds implications for understanding rates of genetic, physiological and cultural adaptation in our species. Permanent occupation of high-elevation environments in the Andes Mountains of South America tentatively began with hunter-gatherers around 9 ka according to current archaeological estimates, though the timing is currently debated. Recent observations on the archaeological site of Soro Mik'aya Patjxa (8.0-6.5 ka), located at 3800 m.a.s.l. in the Andean Altiplano, offer an opportunity to independently test hypotheses for early permanent use of the region. This study observes low oxygen (δ(18)O) and high carbon (δ(13)C) isotope values in human bone, long travel distances to low-elevation zones, variable age and sex structure in the human population and an absence of non-local lithic materials. 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.
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