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Session Overview
KEYNOTE 5: The deep prehistory of the human presence in the world's mountains and plateaus
Tuesday, 10/Sep/2019:
9:05am - 9:30am

Location: Congress center
Sall Innsbruck
by Mark Aldenderfer

Session Abstract

Our ancestors—and ourselves-- have always lived within the shadow of mountains. The story of our enduring relationship with the mountains and plateaus of the world begins perhaps more than one million years ago at the margins of the Rift Valley in Ethiopia. At a series of archaeological sites at elevations ranging from 2000-2400 m, our hominid ancestors obtained obsidian from outcrops and most likely foraged for food. Although these sites are not in mountainous terrain per se, they are found on the Ethiopian plateau and thus offer the first evidence of our ancestor’s use of high elevation environments. Over the next million years, as our ancestors moved out of Africa into new habitats, they found both challenges and refuges in the mountain ranges they encountered. Homo antecessor, Neanderthals, and Denisovans explored and exploited many of the foothills and margins of mountains and plateaus below 3000m but it was only with the advent of Homo sapiens sapiens—us—that the highest plateaus and mountains on the planet were systematically entered and explored. This movement into these high places came late in our evolutionary past—certainly within the past 40,000 years. To successfully live at elevations beyond 3000m, our species required both behavioral as well as genetic adaptations to live in these places permanently. Things we take for granted—fire and clothing—were critical to these adaptations.

In this keynote, I examine the biological, genetic, and archaeological evidence that provides a context for understanding how some of us became highlanders from our lowland origins.

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