A flooded cave in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico should contain evidence “irrefutable” of the mine prehistoric ochre oldest of which we have record in America, with a data that varies between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago.
The discovery was made by underwater archaeologists and espeleobuzos (explorers of underwater caves) of the government’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and the Center for research of the System Aquifer of Quintana Roo AC (Cindaq), in the framework of the project called “The Mine”.
The espeleobuzos Fred Devos and Sam Meacham, co-directors of the Cindaq, explained that during his first tours through the underground system, in 2017, they noted the existence of stalactites and stalagmites broken in half, as well as stones arranged in small mounds, triangular, something that would not have been formed naturally.
The explorers also identified clusters of carbon in the soil, soot in the ceiling of the cave and, mainly, small cavities excavated in the same soil, within which there were remains of an ore which, after analysis, turned out to be ochre.
“The landscape in this cave is markedly altered, which leads us to believe that prehistoric human beings extracted tons of ochre from it, perhaps, be seen in the necessity of lighting fires to illuminate your space,” said Fred Devos, in a prepared statement.
During the transition Pleistocene-Holocene (about 11,000 years ago), the caves located in what is now the mexican state of Quintana Roo were dry, but it is submerged about 8,000 to 7,000 years. In the area there are about six kilometres of passages that were flooded that had not been explored until now, due to being hidden behind rocks and narrow passages of 70 centimeters in diameter.
For the moment, we have not found human skeletal remains. However, were crude tools of excavation, signs not to be missed and clusters of stones linked to the mining activity. Experts estimate that the rocks were the tools used to dig and break the stone.
The ochre, a mixture of iron oxide, sand and clay, was a valuable resource during the prehistoric times. Was used to make cave paintings and rock paintings and to decorate bodies, in addition to other purposes.
Parallelism with Naia
The project “The Mine” would have a parallel with Naia, the name that is referred to the skeleton of a young woman found in 2014 at the archaeological site of Black Hole, located on the outskirts of the city to the archaeological site of Tulum, and whose data varies between 12,000 and 13,000 years ago.
In total, we have found 10 human skeletons in these underground caves, including a skeleton 9,900 years described at the beginning of this year, according to the slogan Gizmodo.
The deputy director of Underwater Archaeology (SAS) of the INAH, Roberto Reed, states that “Mine” is a continuation of the Black Hole, not only by geographical closeness, but because the first, in great measure, complements the knowledge that we have of the second.
“We know that early humans not only took risks entering the labyrinth of caves to find water or to escape from predators, but also entered them to perform mining, alterándolas and generating cultural modifications to the interior,” he said.
Analyze material evidence
In the face of new dives to the Project The Mine will be in the next few months within the cave system, whose location remains reserved for issues of conservation of the context, will continue with laboratory studies, using reconstructions of the scans conducted by experts from Mexico, the united States and Canada.
Thanks to technologies such as photogrammetry and underwater cameras of 360 degrees, have taken more than 20 thousand photographs during 600 hours of diving, and almost 100 dives, to generate a 3D model of the site and facilitate the archaeologists, virtual access to the same.
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