Altitude Environments in Archaeology
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Because humans have evolved as a low-elevation species, to live and thrive at high elevations, our species had to develop physiological, genetic, and cultural adaptations to this extreme environment. Although it is probable that humans made seasonal forays into high-elevation environments, perhaps beginning in the Lower Paleolithic in Africa, the permanent occupation of high-elevation environments occurred relatively late in prehistory. The adoption and spread of plant and animal cultigens, along with acquired genetic adaptations, allowed high-elevation inhabitants, particularly in the world’s high plateaus, to create complex polities.
High-elevation (or altitude) environments are defined as those at and over 2500 masl (meters above mean sea level). It is at this elevation that native lowlanders first experience hypoxia, which is the reduced partial pressure of oxygen. At sea level, for example, arterial blood is 97% saturated with oxygen; at 3000 m, it is at...
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