(ORDO NEWS) — An excavation ending in 2020 has confirmed the existence of an ancient mine in eastern Wyoming that was supposedly used by humans to produce red ocher 13,000 years ago!
Now officially the oldest known mine of any kind in America, the findings are published in the May issue of the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The 2020 report “Ancient Origins” talked about the previous oldest find of a Paleo-Indian mine discovered 12,500-10,000 years ago in Mexico, off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.
A study of this find was published in the leading journal Sciences Advances and focuses on how red ocher was so valuable to the Paleo-Indians of early America that they were willing to risk their lives to collect it.
Lead author and Wyoming archaeologist Spencer Pelton has been at the site since 2016, when he was a doctoral student at the University of Wyoming.
Several University of Wyoming students and researchers were part of the excavation team who were able to confirm the theories put forward by the legendary Wyoming archaeologist George Carr Frison.
Frison began research at the site in 1986 and incidentally passed away while the excavation was being completed in mid-2020.
“We have undeniable evidence of early Paleo-Indian use of this site as early as 12,840 years ago and continued use by early Americans for about 1,000 years.
It is encouraging that we have finally been able to confirm the significance of the Powars II site after decades of work by many people, including Dr. Frison , who learned about this site in the early 1980s and participated in research until his death.”
The Paleo-Indians were the first inhabitants of the American continent during the decline of the Late Pleistocene period. According to the dominant historical version, large animal hunters crossed the Bering Strait from North Asia (Eastern Siberia and present-day Alaska) approximately 17,000 years ago.
Red ocher or hematite was of great value to the Paleo-Indian societies, as it performed a high utilitarian function.
It was used as a pigment in many rituals, evidence of which has been found in ancient tombs, camps, murder sites, and hiding places scattered across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains. The same 2020 Yucatan study claimed that red ocher was also used as an antiseptic, sunscreen, vermin, in funerals, and for decoration.
The Powars II site is the only red ocher quarry found in the North American archaeological record north of southern Mexico, and one of only five such quarries found in the entire America.
Also known as 48PL330, near Sunrise, Wyoming, “this is a significant Paleo-Indian site in the Hartville Rise region of eastern Wyoming. Powars II has been heavily mined for red ocher, as evidenced by Paleo-Indian material in close association with the natural hematite deposit.” , writes Michael D. Stafford in Geoarchaeology 2002.
From this and other excavations, a complete Clovis point was recovered, along with other points, tools, and shell beads. Pelton led one of many subsequent excavations between 2017 and 2020, which unearthed a trench measuring 6 meters (19 ft) by 1 meter (3.2 ft).
In a trench crossing the quarry, thousands of Paleo-Indian artifacts, well-preserved animal bones and horns were found. It was found that bones and horns were used to extract red ocher from the quarry.
Named after the town of Clovis, New Mexico, where they were first discovered en masse in 1929, clovis points are grooved projectile points and are a hallmark of prehistoric Paleo-American culture.
“In addition to being a quarry, the collection of artefacts at Powars II itself is one of the densest and most diverse artifacts found so far in the early Paleo-Indian record of America,” says Pelton.
“The site found more than 30 stone tool fragments per square meter, some of the oldest Canid remains from US archaeological sites, and rare or unique artifacts, among other differences.”
The distribution of evidence points to the use of the quarry in two different primary periods – the first as far back as 12,480 years ago, when, in addition to mining red ocher using bones and horns, weapons were also made and repaired here.
The second phase came about a century later, when man began to extract precious pigment and store artifacts.
The researchers expect that further excavations are likely to uncover even more artifacts and help shed light on the vibrant life of the Paleo-Indians and their cultural practices.
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