Local politics, the county, and the world, as viewed by Tammy Maygra

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The Ancient Mines of Samos

Ancient Mines


New discoveries, new information, and something other than politics and the virus this week.


Divers find evidence of America's first mines — and skeletons — in underwater caves


Experts and cave divers in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula have found ocher mines that are some of the oldest on the continent. Ancient skeletons were found in the narrow, twisting labyrinths of now-submerged sinkhole caves. This cave wound around for half a mile around obstacles and stalagmite’s until it shrank down to a mere 28 inch entrance where the mining was done. Then it opened up to a wondrous sight.


Remains of a young woman who died 13,000 years ago, were found  and over the last 15 years, archaeologists have wondered how they wound up in the then-dry caves. About 8,000 years ago, rising sea levels flooded the caves, known as cenotes, around the Caribbean coast resort of Tulum.

Nine sets of human skeletal remains have been found in the underwater caves, whose passages can be barely big enough to squeeze through. Recent discoveries of about 900 meters of ocher mines suggest they may have had a more powerful attraction. The discovery of remains of human-set fires, stacked mining debris, simple stone tools, navigational aids and digging sites suggest humans went into the caves around 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, seeking iron-rich red ocher, which early peoples in the Americas prized for decoration and rituals. These ores were also regarded throughout the world.


The site is a time capsule of human activity: Pits pockmark the chamber floor, and scattered across are broken stalagmites or stalactites—that had been used as makeshift hammers. Burnt rock and charcoal remained from fires that once illuminated the cavern, and tidy piles of rock, known as cairns, marked the miner’s way. They were serious miners.


Such pigments were used in cave paintings, rock art, burials and other structures among early peoples around the globe. The early miners apparently brought torches or firewood to light their work, and broke off pieces of stalagmites to pound out the ocher. They left smoke marks on the roof of the caves that are still visible today. These clues help us understand and solve ancient mysteries.

The early miners may have removed tons of ocher, which, when ground to a paste, can be used to color hair, skin, rocks or hides in varying shades of red. Now we know that ancient humans did not risk entering this maze of caves just to get water or flee from predators, but that they also entered them to mine.


Red ocher mining seems especially important during the first period of human settlement you find it on tools, floors, hunt sites. It's was a substance of great power and everybody likes shiny red things, then and now. The caves provide a well-preserved environment and are where one of the oldest sets of human remains found in the Americas. The young woman found, most likely died from a 30-meter fall from the dark cave tunnel" onto the floor of a chamber below. This shows the importance of the red ocher, people risked their lives to obtain it.


There are still mysteries from the past that modern humans are discovering. We modern people have no clue about all the cool things people from the past did. With new discoveries we can add to the history of all our beginnings and learn just how we got where we are at.







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