Harsh high-altitude environments were among the last landscapes to be settled by humans during the Late Pleistocene between ~15,000 and 11,000 calendar years before present (cal yr BP). Successful colonization required physiological adaptations to hypoxia and cultural adaptations to limited resources and cold temperatures. How and when humans colonized Andean South America has been poorly understood owing to controversial early archaeological sites and questions about the impact of environmental factors, including the presence of glaciers. Here we report the reexamination and direct dating of six finely woven textiles and cords from Guitarrero Cave, Peru, that identify South America's earliest textiles and show that occupation of the Andes had begun by ~12,000 cal yr BP. Additional evidence for plant processing and fiber-artifact construction suggests women's presence among these earliest foraging groups. Previous research suggested use of the highlands by small groups of male foragers between 15,000 and 13,000 cal yr BP with permanent settlement only after 11,000 cal yr BP. Together these data amplify accumulating evidence for Late Pleistocene/Early Holocene technological sophistication and cultural diversity in South America and are consistent with hypotheses that long-term settlement of higher elevations occurred immediately following glacial retreat.
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