Food 18,000 BC
The excavator of the Iberomaurusian site at Tamar Hat has recently made a convincing case for the management of herds of Barbary sheep in North Africa as early as 18,000 BC. As Saxon points out, not only do Barbary sheep constitute an abnormally high percentage of the faunal remains at Tamar Hat (94%), but the culling pattern - young males and old females - is identical to that of a closely managed herd in a subsistence economy and would be termed domestication if encountered in more recent contexts. (115)
Archaeological sites throughout southwest Asia during the late Upper Pleistocene, from about 20,000 to 16,000 BC are often concentrations of stone tools, ash, and the bones of large, hoofed mammals. Almost all of the meat eaten by people came from just a few species of ungulates, mainly gazelles and wild cows. Based on the tools and other articfacts from Southwest Asian sites of this period, it appears that the basic social unit was a band of about fifteen or twenty people comprising several families who season after season moved through this area hunting animals and gathering plants.(26)
Mammoths, horses, and many other animals were hunted by these upper Paleolithic peoples, but the reindeer was the staff of life: at many sites 99% of all animal bones found belonged to reindeer.(24)
One of the most amply documented Upper Paleolithic cultures in eastern Europe is the Kostenski-Bershevo culture centered in the Don River Valley, about 470 kilometers southeast of Moscow. About 25,000 to 11,000 years ago, the people of Kostenski subsisted primarily through big-game hunting, mainly of mammoths or horses, with an occasional wild cow or reindeer.(24)
Undeniably, the hunting of big game – megafauna – made a significant contribution to the subsistence of Upper Paleolithic people. In central and eastern Europe, for example, sites dating between 28,000 BP and 10,000 BP reflect the major role of the wooly mammoth in the subsistence base of Upper Paleolithic people. Portrayals of ancient hunters fighting a daily duel to the death with huge, aggressive beasts may offer us a romantic image, but it seems an unlikely strategy for survival. It is far more likely that the people of the Upper Paleolithic subsisted on a broad spectrum of foods, including the meat from animals both large and small, birds, fish, seeds, nuts, berries, and starchy roots. Archaeological evidence is finally beginning to support this sensible reconstruction. (170)
A few South American sites have been dated (controversially) to 20,000 to 15,000 years ago, but not until about 10,000 years ago is there substantial evidence of people in the mountains and coasts of Andean South America. John Rick has surveyed large areas of these uplands, and in caves and rock shelters he has found projectile points, scrapers, knife blades, and other traces of these early Peruvians: they ate a lot of deer, guanaco, and vicuna (an animal related to the llama, both of which are New World forms of camels), and in some cases were perhaps even able to live year round in small areas. In the beginning they also hunted giant ground sloths and a few other animals that became extinct about 10,000 years ago.
Some of these people were probably "transhumant," meaning that the moved up and down the mountains to exploit various resources as they came in season. Many people made these seasonal moves once alpacas and llamas were domesticated, because these animals require constant tending and frequent moves to new pasturages, and these animals made it possible for them to exploit the different environments at different times of year. The "thin" air, intense cold, blizzards, and thick fogs of the highlands make movement difficult, and over millennia of adapting to these conditions, natural selection has produced Andean peoples with extraordinary cardiovascular systems. Genetics and life-long exposure to the strains of life at high altitudes have produced people who can work hard in air extremely low in oxygen, while others unadapted to this environment can hardly function. (52)