Washington, Jan 30 : Archaeologists have discovered an intact ancient iron ore mine in South America, which shows how civilizations before the Inca Empire were mining this valuable ore.
The team of archaeologists that made the findings is from the Purdue University in US. Archaeologists know people in the Old and New worlds have mined minerals for thousands and thousands of years," said Kevin J. Vaughn, an assistant professor of anthropology who studies the Nasca civilization, which existed from A.D. 1 to A.D. 750.
"Iron mining in the Old World, specifically in Africa, goes back 40,000 years. And we know the ancient people in Mexico, Central America and North America were mining for various materials," he added.
According to Vaughn, "What we found is the only hematite mine, a type of iron also known as ochre, recorded in South America prior to the Spanish conquest. This discovery demonstrates that iron ores were important to ancient Andean civilizations."
The researchers determined that the mine is a human-made cave that was first created around 2,000 years ago. An estimated 3,710 metric tons was extracted from the mine during more than 1,400 years of use. The mine, which is nearly 700 cubic meters, is in a cliffside facing a modern ochre mine.
According to Vaughn, the Nasca people probably used the red-pigmented mineral primarily for ceramic paints, but they also could have used it as body paint, to paint textiles and even to paint adobe walls.
The Nasca civilization is known for hundreds of drawings in the Nasca Desert, which are known as the Nasca-Lines and can only be seen from the air, and for an aqueduct system that is still used today.
Vaughn and his team also discovered a number of artifacts in the mine, including corncobs, stone tools, and pieces of textiles and pottery. The age of the items was determined by radiocarbon dating, a process that determines age based on the decay of naturally occurring elements.
"Archaeologists have a very good sequence of pottery from this region, so I can look at most pots from this region and determine a date within a century that is based on stylistic changes of the pottery," said Vaughn.
"Even before the dating, we knew this was an ancient mine because of the ceramic pieces. These very small fragments, about the size of a penny, had distinct designs on them that are characteristic of the early Nasca civilization," he added.
The artifacts from the excavation are being curated by the Instituto Nacional de Cultura of Peru at its museum in Inca, Peru.