The oldest mine in California, part 3

Following on from part 1 and part 2. I’ve been using the words mine and mining in the colloquial sense, which excludes quarries for ordinary, non-precious stones unless they are underground workings.

Out in the Mojave desert of southeastern California, near Halloran Springs, are hundreds of small mines that are very possibly the oldest mines in the state. Many of them were worked by the Chemehuevi in early historic times, but the original miners were not California Indians at all.

Those ancient miners in the Mojave Desert were Anasazi, and the mineral they were after was turquoise. It is not widely known outside of archaeological circles, but Ancestral Puebloans established mining camps in the California desert some 1,500 years ago. The turquoise they extracted was traded widely, some of it traveling as far as Snaketown in Arizona. For around 200 to 250 years the Anasazi continued mining there before another group gained control of the deposits.

The newcomers were a different Pueblo group, which we know today as Patayan. Sometimes they are also called Hakataya, but both names refer to the same group. The Patayan continued mining turquoise until they were ultimately replaced by Chemehuevi miners, which appears to have happened sometime around AD 1200. Each of these groups left behind toolmaking debris and broken pottery, which is how we came to know who was working here and when.

California may be the golden state, but there was mining going on for a very long time before gold was discovered in 1842. Yes, that’s right, I said 1842, not 1848. But that’s another story, which I will reserve for another day.

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