(Continuing from part 1.) Before the arrival of the Spanish, cinnabar from the New Almaden area in Santa Clara County was traded by the Ohlone to as far north as the Walla Walla along the Columbia River. I have not seen anything indicating when mining was begun there, but the tunnel was roughly 100 feet long when American visitors first described it, suggesting that it had been worked for quite some time.
Farther north there was a flint (chert) mine on Table Mountain, near Oroville. Unlike most chert workings, this was a genuine underground mine, although a shallow one. The opening is quite narrow, but inside the mine was large enough for a person to stand upright. Ethnographic sources indicate that the Maidu miners would make an offering before mining, and would only take as much flint as could be detached by a single blow. It is likely that flint from this mine was used ritually, as it seems unlikely that such care would be taken for purely utilitarian tool stone.
Both of these mines were in use at the time the Spanish first arrived in California, having been worked for an unknown period of time. However, there are mines in Southern California that are known to have been worked as early as 1,500 years ago. These may well be the oldest mines in California. I’ll discuss them in my next post. Meanwhile, for anyone interested in researching this further, a good start would be Mines and Quarries of the Indians of California by Robert Heizer and Adan Treganza.