Humans Survived off ‘Mole Rats in Bale Mountains’ During Last Ice Age

ADDIS ABEBA – Human ancestors lived in Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains, using obsidian tools and hunting giant rodents during the last ice age, a new study reveals.

This discovery was made by an international team of researchers led by Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) in cooperation with the Universities of Cologne, Bern, Marburg, Addis Ababa, and Rostock.

The researchers found evidence our ancestors had already settled in the mountains about 45,000 years ago during the Paleolithic period.

The Bale Mountains sit 4,000 meters above sea level in southern Ethiopia.

Living on the mountain means dealing with fluctuating temperatures, low oxygen, and a lot of rainfall. But plateaus free of ice in the mountains provided a better home than the dry valleys.

People living in the area today are able to handle lower levels of oxygen, and the researchers believe this might be why, according to their research published on Thursday in the journal Science.

“Because of these adverse living conditions, it was previously assumed that humans settled in the Afro-Alpine region only very lately and for short periods of time,” said Bruno Glaser, soil biogeochemistry expert at Martin Luther University.

The researchers found evidence of clay fragments, stone artifacts, and even a glass bead.

They learned that at the time people were living there, the area was out of the way of glaciers.

As they melted in phases, plenty of water was available for the inhabitants of the settlement, according to Glaser.

The researchers are even able to say what people ate: giant mole rats, endemic rodents in the region the researchers investigated.

These were easy to hunt and provided enough meat, thereby providing the energy required to survive in the rough terrain, according to the researchers.

Humans probably also settled in the area because there was a deposit of volcanic obsidian rock nearby from which they could mine obsidian and make tools out of it.

“The settlement was therefore not only comparatively habitable, but also practical,” concludes Glaser.

Photo Caption: The Fincha Habera rock shelter in the Ethiopian Bale Mountains served as a residence for prehistoric hunter-gatherers.