Mexico Caves Reveal Ancient Ochre Mining

Often, discoveries appear so uncomplicated.

“You know, generally we found a bunch of holes in the floor.”  

Which is Eduard Reinhardt. He’s an archaeologist and geologist at McMaster College in Ontario, Canada.

“But in the end quite critical holes in the floor.”

Reinhardt and colleagues think they’ve found some of the to start with obvious proof of mining action in a procedure of caves in Quintana Roo, on the Yucatan Peninsula. The locate dates back to amongst ten and 12,000 a long time back. 

“So these are some of the quite early men and women that have come and migrated to the Americas by way of the Bering Strait.”

But receiving to what stays of these miners and the equipment they still left is a obstacle.

“Like, as cave divers, you gotta be so cautious you never get shed.”

These cave units, in Mexico, which were when dry, are now fully filled with h2o, thanks to a warming local climate and sea ranges that rose over time. Winding passageways are narrow and dark, and the partitions are manufactured of unforgiving limestone, porous and with sharp edges. Reinhardt states the h2o that filled the caves has preserved all the things.

“It’s generally almost like any individual performing at a factory, they turned the lights off, they went away and nobody at any time came back.”

When divers started out telling Reinhardt about what they were looking at inside of the cave, he resolved to go for a dive himself. He found concentrations of charcoal—meaning that the men and women who walked right here 1000’s of a long time back in all probability utilised hearth to gentle their way. And there are stone cairns, which Reinhardt thinks the men and women created as navigation markers. Reinhardt also states lots of equipment continue to be. And they were manufactured from the stalagmites that hung from the cave ceiling. 

“…they were breaking off and then utilizing as hammers. So you can see the percussion marks where they were banging up, breaking up the stone on the bottom.”

The discovery is in the journal Science Advances. [Brandi L. Macdonald et al, Paleoindian ochre mines in the submerged caves of the Yucatán Peninsula, Quintana Roo, Mexico]

So, what were these historical men and women mining and prospecting for?

“There was a very little bit of sediment nevertheless on the wall of the pit. So I grabbed a vial, my sample vial, and grabbed some of this sediment. And underwater the purple gentle receives attenuated, so it looked form of brown and I was thinking perfectly, maybe it’s ochre, you know, I was thinking about that, but it’s like, perfectly, it appears to be form of cruddy, I never believe which is what it is. But then i bought out of the cave and into the sunlight, and it was just like this stunning vibrant, vibrant purple. So then I understood that which is what they were after.”

Ochre. It’s among the the earliest acknowledged pigments utilized by humans—and it’s bought lots of uses: for sunscreen, to preserve animal skins, in burials and ceremonies. And men and women nevertheless use it even nowadays in artwork.

“It’s a notable and utilised geomaterial, if you will, in the course of the time interval. And dates to utilization for 1000’s of a long time prior to Paleo-Indians about the globe.”

—Emily Schwing

(The above textual content is a transcript of this podcast)