SANTIAGO – A mine from which a prehistoric culture extracted iron oxide 12,000 years ago was discovered in northern Chile by a group of archaeologists, El Mercurio newspaper reported Sunday.
The find took place in the San Ramon ravine in 2008, although this is the first time that the archaeological team has revealed it publicly, and – they say – it could make an important contribution to the understanding of the prehistoric cultures that lived in the Taltal area, some 1,100 kilometers (682 miles) north of Santiago.
The ancient people who exploited the mine were members of the Huentelauquen culture, which used iron oxide for ceremonial purposes, archaeologists said.
This is the oldest mine discovered in the Americas, much older than one used 2,500 years ago that was discovered in the United States, University of Chile professor Diego Salazar said.
In South Africa, a 40,000-year-old mine was discovered, in Australia there is one that was used 30,000 years ago and in Greece there is a 15,000-year-old mine, Salazar said.
The Huentelauquen culture, which inhabited the area, was discovered in 1961 and to date very little is known about its members, who were nomadic hunters and gatherers but also lived from fishing and collecting shellfish.
The exploitation of the mine “indicates the importance of religious activity in their way of life because iron oxide is not eaten, is not sold, is not bought,” and it was used as a coloring agent in religious rites, Salazar said.
It has been determined that the Chinchorro mummies found farther to the north in the Arica area and whose age has been calculated at about 10,000 years were dyed with iron oxide, the archaeologist said.