Photo: Inside the Ancient-most Mine
Archaeologists have reportedly discovered a 12,000 year old mine, the oldest in the New World.
A report led by Universidad de Chile’s Diego Salazar and published in The Current Anthropology journal pre-dates the world’s oldest known indigenous mine by 75 hundred years.
The mine, approximately 130 feet in length, was used by South American natives to dig up the red and yellow iron oxide pigments found in 200,000 year old archaeological sites in the Old World.
Iron oxides have been used extensively in the Americas from the Paleoindian period up to the ethnographic present. But, because archaeological mining sites are extremely rare in this continent, we still know very little about how indigenous groups exploited and processed these minerals. Here we report finds from the San Ramon 15 site, located on the arid coast of northern Chile, where our research revealed a prehistoric mine with associated tailings and mining debris that was exploited by hunter-gatherer-fisher groups.
The mine is located some 1.24 miles above sea level, and was most likely exploited for 2,000 years by the first settlers in the region, the Huentelauquens.
The remarkable duration and extent of the operation illustrate the surprising cultural complexity of these ancient people.
We wish to emphasize that this study demonstrates that at least part of the mining production at (San Ramon)-15 is contemporary with the oldest human occupations of northern Chile and the Pacific Coast of South America , thus extending by several millennia the mining sites yet recorded in the Americas. The regular exploitation of (San Ramon)- 15 for more than a millennium during the Early Holocene indicates that knowledge about the location of the mine, the properties of its iron oxides, and the techniques required to exploit and process these minerals were transmitted over generations within the Huentelauque´n Cultural Complex, thereby consolidating the first mining tradition yet known in America.
This tradition is related to other iron oxide mines in both the Old and the New World, but it is different from later copper mines in the Americas and elsewhere. In the case of later copper mines, there is certainly evidence of systematic mining knowledge similar to that in (San Ramon)-15, but the abundance of hafted hammerstones indicates a different technology and probably a different technological organization from the early hunter-gatherer mining reported in this paper.
An estimated 700 cubic meters and 2,000 tons of rock were extracted from the mine. Carbon dates for charcoal and shells found in the mine suggest it was used continuously from around 12,000 years ago to 10,500 years ago, and then used again around 4,300 years ago. The researchers also found more than 500 hammerstones dating back to the earliest use of the mine.