A group of researchers from the United States discovered in Mexico the first underground mines of Paleoindian age, where 12-10 thousand years ago, ancient people extracted ochre.
“The first underground ochre mine of Paleoindian age found in North and South America strongly proves the mining of minerals in three cave systems in Eastern Yucatan during 2000 years 12-10 thousand years ago,” says an article in the journal Science Advances.
At the end of the Pleistocene, the coastline in the state of Quintana Roo stood further away, opening the entrance to dry caves, of which about seven kilometers have been explored so far. The oldest and best-preserved human remains previously found in these caves did not reveal to researchers the purpose of using underground mazes.
A network of caves with a horizontal length of about a kilometer in the area of Tulum is, as researchers found out, an underground mine in which red ochre – the most popular mineral dye from iron oxide throughout the world’s history-was extracted for generations.
Intact as a result of flooding were the remains of fires and stone tools from stalagmites, stone pointers for orientation in the cave, and other artifacts among the excavation pits with the remains of a high-purity mineral.
Despite the widespread and sustainable use of ochre among the Paleo-Indian peoples, there was previously little archaeological evidence of the search for ochre and its extraction methods in the Americas.