Paper No. 210-5
Presentation Time: 9:05 AM
LATE PLEISTOCENE OCHRE MINING IN THE CAVES OF THE YUCATAN PENINSULA, MEXICO (Invited Presentation)
Investigations in the now-submerged cave systems on the Yucatán Peninsula have yielded evidence for human presence during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition. Skeletal remains are scattered throughout the caves of Quintana Roo, most representing individuals who died in situ. The reasons why they explored these underground environments have remained unclear. Here, we detail findings on multiple instances of subterranean ochre pigment mines of Paleoindian age, showing evidence for intensive mining activities in three cave systems on the eastern Yucatán over a ~2000-year period between ~12 and 10 ka. The cave passages contain preserved evidence for ochre extraction pits, speleothem digging tools, shattered and piled flowstone debris, cairn navigational markers for wayfinding, and hearths with charcoal from highly resinous wood species. The sophistication of the activities demonstrates a high cognitive capacity for understanding geologic principles of stratigraphy and regional-scale mineral prospecting. The extent of the activities also signals a readiness to venture into the dark zones of the caves to prospect to collect what was evidently a culturally valued mineral resource.