BEIJING, Feb. 1 (Xinhuanet) -- An ancient iron ore
mine discovered in Peru reveals civilizations in the Andes mined the valuable
rock before the Inca Empire.
"What we found is the only hematite mine ！ a type of
iron also known as ochre ！ recorded in South America prior to the Spanish
conquest," said researcher Kevin Vaughn, an archaeologist at Purdue University
in West Lafayette, Ind. "This discovery demonstrates that iron ores were
important to ancient Andean civilizations."
The Mina Primavera mine, was discovered by
traveling miners in the Ingenio Valley of the Andes Mountains in southern Peru.
Vaughn, with archaeologist Moises Linares and colleagues, then spent four years
excavating and researching it.
The scientists determined the mine was a human-made
cave first created roughly 2,000 years ago. The mine, which is nearly 700 cubic
meters in size ！ about seven times the volume of a double-decker bus ！ is in a
cliffside facing a modern ochre mine.
Vaughn and his team discovered a number of artifacts
in Mina Primavera, including corncobs, gourd fragments, stone tools, beads made
of shell and stone, and shards of textiles and pottery. The small ceramic
fragments, "about the size of a penny, had distinct designs on them that are
characteristic of the early Nasca civilization," he explained.
The Nasca civilization, which existed from about 1 to
750 AD, is well known for hundreds of drawings in the Nasca Desert known as the
Nasca Lines ！ stylized hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, lizards, sharks, llamas
and other figures can only be seen from the air. It also built an aqueduct
system that is still used today.
The researchers estimate more than 3,700 metric tons
of hematite were extracted from the ancient mine during more than 1,400 years of
use. Vaughn conjectures the Nasca civilization used the red-pigmented mineral
primarily for ceramic paints, but they also could have used it as body paint, to
paint textiles and even to paint adobe walls.
The iron was not extracted from the ore for use in
tools, Vaughn explained. "Metals were used for a variety of tools in the Old
World, such as weapons, while in the Americas, metals were used as prestige
goods for the wealthy elite," he said. "The fact that you have this mine way out
in the middle of nowhere suggests that this was a regular, important