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Earliest red ochre mine in Americas

Archaeologists discover the Americas' oldest-known red ochre mine in Wyoming.

Red ochre, AKA hematite, was widely used in early Plains societies. It has come to light from burials, caches, camp sites, and bison kills over a wide area. Though only five red ochre mines are known from the Americas, we now know that the oldest was the Powars II site at Sunrise, Wyoming. First visited by Paleo-Indians as far back as 12,840 years ago, the mine remained in use for about a thousand years.

The site was discovered and first excavated by the highly respected Plains archaeologist, George Frison, who died in 2020, but research has continued ever since. To date, the excavations have recovered Clovis stone tools, but also other projectile points of different types, as if people visited the quarry from a wide area. Moreover, it appears that the people used animal bones and deer antlers to extract the red ochre.

The researchers have established that the quarry was primarily used during two periods. One began about 12,840 years ago and lasted for several centuries. The miners also made and repaired tools and weapons on site. A century or so later, other occupants mined ochre and deposited their tools in a quarry pit. There is much more to discover at this well-preserved site, which covers about 800 square metres and contains evidence of a wide variety of activities.

Want more in-depth archaeology? Read Archaeology Worldwide magazine.

Image: A complete Clovis point recovered from the Powars II site.

Credit: Spencer Pelton.

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