Archaeologists Discover Ancient Ochre Mine that Unlocks the lives of Early Americans

Related Articles

Related Articles

A new study by the El Centro Investigador del Sistema Acuífero de Quintana Roo A.C. (CINDAQ) together with Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), and an international team of scientists has revealed the earliest ochre mines in the Americas and the first from the Paleoindian period.

A team from CINDAQ had been exploring a cave system in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, navigating several kilometres of underwater passages when they came across features within the subterranean landscape that had been unnaturally altered.

They conducted nearly 100 expeditions and collected samples, captured more than 20,000 photographs and gathered hours of 360-degree video footage to enable researchers to study the unnatural formations and archaeological remains in situ.


Ochre Mine – Image Credit : CINDAQ

The CINDAQ divers brought the discovery to the attention of Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) as well as the experts from academia to fully understand its significance.

Researchers have determined that the cave system was inhabited from between 12,000-10,000 years ago, predating the rise of Maya culture and was occupied for around 2,000 years.

During this period, the cave was mined for ochre, a natural clay earth pigment which is a mixture of ferric oxide and varying amounts of clay and sand often used in rock paintings, mortuary practices, painted objects, and for personal adornment.

Hammerstone Tool – Image Credit : CINDAQ

Remains of ochre extraction beds and pits have been identified, along with digging tools, navigational markers, and fire pits. In some parts of the cave complex, the cave ceiling is still visibly blackened by what appears to be soot caused by small fires.

Eduard Reinhardt from the School Of Geography & Earth Sciences at McMaster University said: “Most evidence of ancient mining on the surface has been altered through natural and human processes, obscuring the record. These underwater caves are a time capsule. With all the tools left as they were 10,000 – 12,000 years ago, it represents a unique learning opportunity. It took advanced expertise to work in the caves recovering ochre, so we know it was very valuable for the earliest peoples of the Americas.”

Navigation Marker – Image Credit : CINDAQ

The study has also found an abundance of animal and plant remains that enables scientists to recreate what the environment was like for early Americans.

Brandi MacDonald from the Archaeometry Laboratory at the University of Missouri said: “What is remarkable is not only the preservation of the mining activity, but also the age and duration of it. We rarely, if ever, get to observe such clear evidence of ochre pigment mining of Paleoindian age in North America, so to get to explore and interpret this is an incredible opportunity for us. Our study reinforces the notion that ochre has long been an important material throughout human history.”

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic


Walking, Talking and Showing Off – a History of Roman Gardens

In ancient Rome, you could tell a lot about a person from the look of their garden. Ancient gardens were spaces used for many activities, such as dining, intellectual practice, and religious rituals.

Curious Kids: How did the First Person Evolve?

We know humans haven’t always been around. After all, we wouldn’t have survived alongside meat-eating dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex.

Ring-like Structure on Ganymede May Have Been Caused by a Violent Impact

Researchers from Kobe University and the National Institute of Technology, Oshima College have conducted a detailed reanalysis of image data from Voyager 1, 2 and Galileo spacecraft in order to investigate the orientation and distribution of the ancient tectonic troughs found on Jupiter’s moon Ganymede.

Tracing Evolution From Embryo to Baby Star

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) took a census of stellar eggs in the constellation Taurus and revealed their evolution state.

“Woodhenge” Discovered in the Iberian Peninsula

Archaeologists conducting research in the Perdigões complex in the Évora district of the Iberian Peninsula has uncovered a “Woodhenge” monument.

New Fossil Discovery Shows How Ancient ‘Hell Ants’ Hunted With Headgear

Researchers from New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), Chinese Academy of Sciences and University of Rennes in France have unveiled a stunning 99-million-year-old fossil pristinely preserving an enigmatic insect predator from the Cretaceous Period -- a 'hell ant' (haidomyrmecine) -- as it embraced its unsuspecting final victim, an extinct relative of the cockroach known as Caputoraptor elegans.

New Algorithm Suggests That Early Humans and Related Species Interbred Early and Often

A new analysis of ancient genomes suggests that different branches of the human family tree interbred multiple times, and that some humans carry DNA from an archaic, unknown ancestor.

Long Neck Helped Reptile Hunt Underwater

Its neck was three times as long as its torso, but had only 13 extremely elongated vertebrae: Tanystropheus, a bizarre giraffe-necked reptile which lived 242 million years ago, is a paleontological absurdity.

Popular stories

Port Royal – The Sodom of the New World

Port Royal, originally named Cagway was an English harbour town and base of operations for buccaneers and privateers (pirates) until the great earthquake of 1692.

Matthew Hopkins – The Real Witch-Hunter

Matthew Hopkins was an infamous witch-hunter during the 17th century, who published “The Discovery of Witches” in 1647, and whose witch-hunting methods were applied during the notorious Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts.

Did Corn Fuel Cahokia’s Rise?

A new study suggests that corn was the staple subsistence crop that allowed the pre-Columbian city of Cahokia to rise to prominence and flourish for nearly 300 years.

The Real Dracula?

“Dracula”, published in 1897 by the Irish Author Bram Stoker, introduced audiences to the infamous Count and his dark world of sired vampiric minions.