Early humans in Africa fled to the mountains, earlier deemed as inhospitable

A latest study published by experts from the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) conclude that the people in Ethiopia did not live in low lying valleys, but high up in the region of Bale Mountains during the last ice age. Owning to better conditions which offered them enough water and nourishment comprising mainly of giant rodents, they could also build tools from obsidian. The study thus offers one of the first evidence that reveals that our African ancestors had already settled in the high altitude mountain during the Palaeolithic period, which existed about 45,000 years ago.

The Bales Mountains, located in southern Ethiopia, are located 4000 metres above sea level. Given the region has low levels of oxygen in the air, where temperatures fluctuate constantly and experiences torrential rains, the region is regarded as highly inhospitable.  It was mainly because of this reason that it was earlier believed that the human species settled in the Afro-Alpine region.

However on basis of the new research, it was long since that people had settled on the ice-free plateaus of Bale Mountains, which began 45000 years ago within the Middle Pleistocene Epoch. It was believed that by that period, the lower valleys of the region had become too dry for survival.

For the obtained results, the team carried out an investigation at a rocky outcrop which was based near the Fincha Habera settlement, in the Bale Mountains, located in southern Ethiopia. During field campaigns, scientists discovered several stone artefacts, glass beads and clay fragments. Moreover, the researchers also studied the soil. Through the sediment deposits present in the soil, nutrient analyses, extensive biomarker and radiocarbon dating could be carried out, which thus helped experts in drawing conclusions about the number of people who could have inhabited the region and the period of their settlement.

Furthermore, a palaeothermometer also helped in determining the weather in the region, precipitation, humidity, and temperature. According to reports, such research was possible only in natural, inhospitable areas, which had little contamination, thus enabling little to no changes in the soil profile.

The study also reveals availability of sufficient water in the region, due to melting of glaciers. The experts could thus also get hints on what the people could have eaten. The region also provided easy hunting opportunities and hence enough energy to survive in the rough terrain. Another attribute for a possible settlement was seen in the nearby deposits of volcanic obsidian rock which could help in mining of obsidian and hence in creating tools.

“The settlement was therefore not only comparatively habitable, but also practical. For the first time, the soil layer dating from this period also contains the excrement of grazing animals,” commented Professor Bruno Glaser, an expert in soil biogeochemistry at MLU.

The study was published in the Journal Science.