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Landscape of Rancho Quemado, where the Treasure Cave is located with, inset, the atlatl and two wooden darts, found in Treasure Cave, Querétaro, Mexico        Source: Jesús E. Medina V./ INAH

Hunting Instruments Dating Back 1,900 Years Discovered in Mexican Cave

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In a small gallery of the Cueva del Tesoro, in Cadereyta de Montes, Querétaro, authorities have recovered one of the few sets of hunting tools from pre-Hispanic times discovered so far in Mexico. It is an  atlatl (spear) and two wooden darts, used in the first century AD.

The discovery was recorded by members of the Association of Cavers of Querétaro who were exploring a cave located the in the community of Rancho Quemado. When they found the ancient objects, they notified the INAH Querétaro Center to ensure its safeguarding, conservation, and research.

View of the In Situ instruments inside the Treasure Cave (Cueva del Tesoro) gallery.  (Jesús E. Medina V./INAH)

View of the In Situ instruments inside the Treasure Cave (Cueva del Tesoro) gallery.  (Jesús E. Medina V./INAH)

Retrieving the Ancient Weapons

In April 2023, a team from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) working under the auspices of the federal Ministry of Culture archaeologists including Carlos Viramontes Anzures, Jesús Eduardo Medina Villalobos and Ricardo Leonel Cruz Jiménez, ascended an intricate ravine, under the supervision of the members of said caving association and the guide of the Portuguese speleologist Paulo Campos.

The cave is located 200 meters (656 feet) up from the bottom of the ravine, and from the entrance they entered a further 200 meters (656 feet), through a narrow passage, until reaching the gallery.

Within this underground area, with an average height of just 80 centimeters (31.5 inches), the specialists came across an  atlatl 51.5 centimeters (20.3 in) long, two fragmented darts of 66 and 79 centimeters (26 & 31.1 inches) long and a pair of culturally modified logs of 135 and 172 centimeters (53.15 & 67.7 inches) in length, which are probably digging sticks, although they were likely used as multifunctional tools.

The atlatl and two wooden darts, found in Treasure Cave, Querétaro, Mexico, with detail of the body of the atlatl where you can see the shape of the hook and the groove to better fix the darts. (Jesús E. Medina V./ INAH)

The atlatl and two wooden darts, found in Treasure Cave, Querétaro, Mexico, with detail of the body of the atlatl where you can see the shape of the hook and the groove to better fix the darts. (Jesús E. Medina V./ INAH)

During the exploration, the INAH team did not find other pre-Hispanic archaeological elements in the cave that would allow an interpretation of the reason why they were in such a remote place. However, the progress of the analysis of the samples was to be announced on January 27, 2024, in the lecture series of the Templo Mayor Museum , connected with the temporary exhibition Badges of the Gods.

Based on the recommendations of the conservator Paula García Reyes, the set of hunting instruments was meticulously recovered, and delicately transferred using polyethylene fiber, bubble wrap, plastic film and polyethylene foam plates for protection.

Afterwards, they were taken to the INAH Querétaro Center, where they remain waiting for other studies, such as the taxonomic identification of the wood, and to be integrated into the permanent exhibition of the Regional Museum of Querétaro.

Close up of the atlatl weapon. (Jesús E. Medina V./INAH)

Close up of the atlatl weapon. (Jesús E. Medina V./INAH)

Part of a Much Deeper History

The dryness of the location of the Treasure Cave allowed the preservation of these elements for nearly two millennia, as indicated by the result of the absolute radiocarbon dating carried out on one of the darts, in the Laboratory of Mass Spectrometry with Accelerators of the Institute of Physics from the UNAM, which gave a range of years from 7 to 132 AD.

The archaeologist Viramontes thinks the discovery of these instruments should not be seen in isolation, but as the most recent contribution to the story of the semi-desert of Querétaro and Guanajuato, where men and women who practiced hunting and gathering moved in search of sustenance, for nine thousand years. Testimony to this are more than 260 rock art sites, one of the most fascinating manifestations of these societies.

Carlos Viramontes, Jesús Medina and Claudia Jiménez, who this year will formalize the project “Landscape, rock art and occupation in Querétaro and Guanajuato”, registered in 2023 almost a dozen new sites in Querétaro territory, which include scenes of hunting.

"Three decades ago, what we knew about these groups was based on sources from the 16th century, which gave rise to conceiving them as barbarians, and it was not until the end of the 50s of the 20th century that the foundations were laid to delve deeper into the subject when Cynthia Irwin-Williams excavated the El Tecolote Cave, in Tequisquiapan, and found materials, including projectile points, dating back to 7,000 BC. In 1989, the INAH Querétaro Center recorded elements, with similar dating, in Mesa de León, a site near the Cueva del Tesoro, where we now recover the atlatl and the darts, pieces that add to this puzzle to understand hunting societies, whose presence in the region dates back at least 9,000 years, and who survived two more centuries after the arrival of the Spanish,” explains Viramontes.

The archaeologists conclude that the mystery of this discovery will remain until new archaeological work is carried out in the areas surrounding the cave, in order to begin to connect the dots and understand what this instrument was doing in that cave, how and why it got there.

Top image: Landscape of Rancho Quemado, where the Treasure Cave is located with, inset, the atlatl and two wooden darts, found in Treasure Cave, Querétaro, Mexico        Source: Jesús E. Medina V./ INAH

This article is a repost of the press release by INAH. Source: https://www.inah.gob.mx/boletines/descubren-instrumentos-de-caza-con-antigueedad-de-1-900-anos-en-una-cueva-de-cadereyta-queretaro

 
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