Archaeologists who found ancient settlements high up in the Peruvian Andes were surprised to learn that humans were there between 12,000 and 13,000 years ago. At nearly 3 miles above sea level, that makes them the "world's highest known Ice Age settlements," in the words of Reuters. It also means that humans got to these sites in the Pucuncho Basin about 2,000 years earlier than thought, reports National Geographic. Researchers found tools and animal bones in the rock alcoves, along with artwork on the walls and soot on the ceiling from fires.
"What this tells us is that hunter-gatherers were capable of colonizing a very extreme environment, the high Andes, despite the challenges at the end of the Ice Age," says an archaeologist from Germany's University of Tübingen who led the study published in Science. One theory is that these first inhabitants braved the cold temperatures and thin air because of the abundance of llamas and alpacas for hunting. They also would have found deposits of obsidian to make their stone tools, reports AP. (In another archaeological find, researchers discovered a missing sphinx head inside a Greece tomb.)