High in the Andes

A story in Reuters cites a find at 14,000 feet in the Andes of a rock shelter used as a base camp around 12,000 years ago.  This is an extreme environment, quite chilly with low oxygen but people lived there using stone tools for hunting and cutting and pounding and making art on the walls such as animals in red ochre (the favorite pigment of our ancestors).  One wall was painted red for a bit of home decorating.  The researchers say this is the earliest evidence of humans living at such an altitude by more than a millennia and wonder how they could have done so with the low oxygen. Here is link:



These good folks are Himalayan and they have genes that appeared in their stock about 40,000 years ago that enable them to live at high elevations through subtle changes of their blood chemistry (see an earlier post on Ancient mutation 7/4/14).  Their friends and relatives look to have crossed from Eurasia to North America and lived in Beringia around 25,000 years ago before completing the migration south to the rest of the Americas around 15,000 years ago (see earlier post on Beringia 3/5/14).


So it looks like by 12,000 years ago the humans at their camp high in the Andes were already quite experienced and well adapted to live there, enjoying the beautiful scenery, brisk weather, and good hunting.  They were a small group, probably a few dozen at the most, maybe a couple of families or a small clan.  They had good hunting as evidenced from the bones around the site and they processed the carcasses with stone tools and cooked them.  The ceiling is blackened from soot.  I imagine they put some on rocks outside the fire’s warmth for a bit of cold storage.

As I have wondered before, what drives humans to challenge themselves through exploring and living in such seemingly inhospitable places?  We have a strong proclivity to seek.  We are smart enough to follow game in their seasonal migrations.  Maybe like Daniel Boone, they did not want their neighbors to be too close.  Maybe they were peaceful isolationists and a more ambitious and aggressive tribe had moved into the lowlands.  Maybe like John Muir they found spiritual nurturance and inspiration in the mountain heights.  Anyway, i have to admire their hardy souls.  Travel on.

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