Archeologists uncover evidence of pre-Hispanic iron mining in Andes

A team of Peruvian and American archeologists has uncovered a 2,000-year-old mine in the foothills of Peru’s Andes in the southern department of Ica. The leader of the expedition and assistant professor at Purdue University, Dr. Kevin Vaughn, says the Mina Primavera is the only pre-Hispanic hematite mine registered in South America and the first evidence of iron ore mining in the Andes.

According to a report by the archeologists, the mine was used by at least two pre-Inca civilizations, the Nazca and Wari, in order to extract hematite, the mineral form of iron oxide which was likely used as a pigment for painting pottery. The study finds some 3,710 tonnes of hematite was excavated from the mine, “suggesting regular and extensive mining prior to Spanish conquest.”

Inside the 500-square-meter mine, archeologists found pottery fragments, stone and shell beads, botanical remains, cotton textiles suitable for storing and transporting ground pigment and fragments of spondylus shells, suggesting the site was also used to make offerings linked to agricultural fertility and water.

Vaughn told BBC Mundo, “metallurgy in the Americas was very different from metallurgy in the Old World, where it was used to make arms and tools.” “In the New World, the metallurgy was mainly developed in order to produce prestigious articles for the elite.”

For the Nasca culture, painted pottery was an important part of their rituals, daily life, and death, according to the archeological report.

“It continued to play an important role in the emergence and dominance of the Wari empire, although patterns for the consumption of the finest polychrome pottery became increasingly restricted to elite contexts and political events such as state-sponsored feasts.”

“Understanding the ways in which the raw materials used for this pottery were extracted, processed, and transported to eventually be used as a paint remains an important question in understanding the ancient Andes and one of its most important artisan crafts.”

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