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The rugged landscape of central Nevada was once home to some America's earliest inhabitants. Before survey and excavations conducted at Alta Toquima by Dr. Thomas and his team, many archaeologists believed that early American hunters avoided high altitude environments as too harsh and barren to sustain life. Archaeologists had previously identified small, temporary base-camps as high as 11,000 feet, but which showed no indication of long-term settlement.
In 1980, Dr. Thomas proved otherwise. He showed that from around 2500 BC to 0 AD, the mountains were used intermittently by small groups of hunters who seasonally exploited mountain sheep. After 1 AD, however, he discovered that high-mountain villages began to be constructed. These were occupied for months at a time by families who were able to sustain themselves on the local resources which included elk, sheep, marmot, fish, eagles, berries, pine nuts and roots.
These new large, long-term settlements at Alta Toquima represented a major shift in how ancient Americans used mountain resources, and illustrate how archaeological research continues to teach us about the past.