A diver examines stones stacked into a pile by ancient miners who extracted ocher pigment at La Mina, a site deep inside a cave in Yucatán, Mexico between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago. Rising seas later flooded the cave, preserving the evidence of mining for thousands of years.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY CINDAQ.ORG
In the chamber that lay beyond the tiny passage was an ancient scene preserved in stunning detail: an 11,000-year-old mining site for red ocher pigments, complete with tools and fire pits. The mine, described in a new study published today in Science Advances, is one of the few archaeological sites to reveal where and how ancient humans extracted the vibrant pigments that have been put to a host of uses around the world, including mortuary rituals, cave painting, and even sunscreen.
“I’ve spent a lot of time imagining the different ways that people in the past have gone about collecting mineral pigments,” says study author Brandi MacDonald, an archaeologist at the University of Missouri and expert on ocher pigments. “But being able to see it like this in such an interesting state of preservation, it just kind of blew me away.”
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