Modern Human Biological Adaptations to High-Altitude Environments in the Andean Archaeological Record
High Altitude Primates
Modern humans are the most geographically widespread primate species inhabiting every terrestrial ecosystem of our planet. While cultural and technological innovations enable us to live worldwide, biological adaptations to specific environments also are important in allowing humans to live across the globe. High-altitude regions of 2,500 m and higher are among the most challenging ecosystems to inhabit with cold ambient temperatures, limited food availability, and reduced barometric pressure of atmospheric oxygen (Pawson and Jest 1978; Beall et al. 2012). Despite the physiological challenges of living at high altitudes, modern humans have inhabited high-altitude regions for millennia: since as early as 30,000 years ago on the Tibetan Plateau (Madsen et al. 2006; Aldenderfer 2011) and by 11,000 years ago in the South American Andes (Aldenderfer 1999; Aldenderfer and Flores Blanco 2011). The longevity of human settlement in different high-altitude regions and the physiological challenges of living at high elevations suggest that human populations indigenous to high altitudes have developed biological adaptations to survive and reproduce in these harsh environments.
Weinstein, Karen J. "Modern Human Biological Adaptations to High-Altitude Environments in the Andean Archaeological Record." In High Altitude Primates, edited by Nanda B. Grow, Sharon Gursky-Doyen, and Alicia Krzton, 285-324. New York: Springer, 2014.