Mining and Religion in Ancient Man

Glenn Morton (
Thu, 10 Oct 1996 21:02:58

Subterranean Mining and Religion in Ancient Man
Copyright G.R. Morton 1996.

This may be freely distributed as long as charge is made and no
alterations are made to the text without the prior consent of the

Over the past two years, mostly on the evolution reflector, I have
presented evidence for behaviors among the ancient hominids which would
be considered quite human if it were found today. These data include
the earliest art object, a Venus figurine, the Berekhat Ram
figurine, which dates to 300,000 years ago.(Morris, 1994, p 186-188), the
wooden plank with polish made by either archaic Homo Sapiens or Homo
erectus,(Belitsky et al, 1991), evidence for the tanning of hides from 1
million years ago (Johanson et al, 1994, p. 163-165; Klein 1989, pp 113-117),
warfare or murder among the Neandertal approximately 48,000 years ago(Solecki,
1992, p. 211), and the Australian art dated at 75,000 years ago, which
implies boat-building (required to reach Australia) from that remote
time. Tonight I am reporting on one of the most complex behaviors yet--
subterranean mining.

Technically speaking, mining goes back to the appearance of the
first flint tools around 2.4 million years ago (Walker and Shipman,
1996, p 176). The collection of cobbles with which to make stone tools
is a form of surface mining. Surface mining of this form has occurred
continuously since that time for a variety of products. Crystalline
rocks suitable for tool manufacture have been continuously mined.
The technological expertise of the ancient miners, even in surface
mining, is quite intriguing. Mellars (1996, p. 265) writes:

"Turq describes one such major site from this region - that of
Lascabannes, located immediately adjacent to a rich flint source on the
Senonian outcrop in Lot-et-Garonne. The assemblage is characterized
predominantly by a concentration of flint nodules, most of which exhibit
signs of deliberate scratching or scoring of the surface (to assess the
quality of the flint) followed by preliminary testing of the nodules by
occasional flake removals, or more systematic removal of outer
(cortical) flakes to reduce the weight of the nodules for transportation
from the site. An apparent example of a similar extraction site has
been reported briefly by Geneste from the site of Campsegret in the
Bergerac region, but has not yet been described in any detail."

The testing of the nodules for quality would seem to mimic what modern
geologists do when acquiring raw material of any sort. Quality control
is always an important consideration.

I have recently become aware of how widespread is the evidence for
subsurface mining. Bednarik (1992) describes several subterranean mining
sites from the Middle and Upper Paleolithic. These include mining from
caves as well as the digging of shafts to reach buried raw material. He
further discusses the cognitive abilities required to engage in
subterranean mining.

Nazlet Khater 4 is a site in Upper Egypt between Asyut and Sohag,
which dates from between 35,100 to 30,360 years BP. A layer of greenish
silts and sands is overlian by a chert-rich layer of Nile gravel. Above
this level were three layers containing no chert. The chert-rich layer
could be seen in outcrop (place where the rock comes to the surface).
These miners apparently had the geological understanding to predict
where the flint rich layer would go. They dug a 9-m long, 2-m wide
trench as well as 7 vertical shafts to reach the flint layer. This
would mean hours of work digging through layers which contained no flint
in order to reach the prized flint.

What is even more amazing, is what Bednarik (1992, p. 13) says
about the miners.

"Some information has been recovered about the people responsible
for the quarrying. Numerous lithic artefacts were fashioned from the
chert cobbles of the substratum, and they include blades and bifacially
trimmed axes. On the sumit of a boulder hill 400 m to the north-west,
at Nazlet Khater 2 site, two graves were discovered. One contained the
outstreched remains of a human, probably a sub-adult male, the other was
of a human foetus. The former had been covered with loose aeolian sand
and several boulders, some exceeding 0.4 m in diameter. Next to the
cranium (an archaic Homo sapiens, op. cit. Fig. 9), a 12 cm-long axe
head was found in the grave fill, possessing concave sides for hafting,
and matching the axe heads at the nearby mining site in every respect."

According to the definition of archaic Homo sapiens, the miners are not
anatomically modern humans (Churchill et al, 1996, p231)!

Could this mining be the result of ancient, Egyptian Dynastic miners?
No. The axes found with the miners are not the same type as those found
in Dynastic times. Dynastic age graves always bury the body in a
contracted position, yet in the burial found at Nazlet Khater 4
the man is layed out in an extended position. And finally, there are no
archaic Homo sapiens in ancient Egypt.

But mining in the Nile Valley goes even further back in time. Vermeersch
and Paulissen report on four other sites, Qena and Nazlet Safaha,
dating to 50,000 years ago, and Nazlet Khater-2 and Beit Allam, which
date to 60,000 years ago (Vermeersch and Paulissen, 1989, p. 36). All
of these sites were flint quarries.

At Lion Cave in Swaziland, ancient miners cut a tunnel 25 feet wide, 30
feet deep, and 20 ft high. This tunnel was cut into a cliff face 500
feet tall. This is apparently the oldest known mining operation. The
activity has been securely dated to go back at least 43,000 years by
carbon 14 and probably goes back even further to 70-110,000 years
ago.(Dart and Beaumont, 1971, p. 10; Bednarik, 1992, p. 15; Dart and
Beaumont, 1967; Vermeersch and Paulissen, 1989, p. 36). Apparently, the
mining was terminated when a 5-ton boulder fell from the roof of the
tunnel and blocked the entrance. (Dart and Beaumont, 1967, p. 408)

In the case of this mine, it is even known where the ancient miners
"mined" their tools. Dart and Beaumont (1967,p. 408) write:

"Quartz, white quartzites, grey and white dappled quartzite, black
indurated shales and greenish cherts were the principal materials used
by the miners. These rock types occur mostly on a ridge overlooked by,
and about 0.25 miles from, the cavern. The exposures there are patently
flaked. Dappled grey and white quartzite exposures occur about a mile
and more northwest of the site."~R. A. Dart and P. Beaumont, "Amazing
Antiquity of Mining in Southern Africa," Nature, 216,(1967):407-408, p.

Since some like Hugh Ross (1995b) believe that archaic humans were
merely an intelligent mammalian species, like the primates, it is
important to realize that there are significant differences between what
we know from activies at Lion Cave and the activities of chimpanzees.
The distance the mining tools were carried is, by far, a greater
distance than chimpanzees carry tools. Boesch and Boesch (1984, p. 162)
tabulate the distances tools were carried by chimpanzees to crack open
nuts to obtain food. 96 percent of the tools were obtained within 200 m
of the nut tree. In the mining case, the miners had to have in mind the
red ochre back at Lion Cavern a quarter mile away while they spent time
manufacturing tools appropriate to the task of breaking the hard,
hematite ore. Then they had to remember the ore while they hauled the
newly made tools back to the mine for use. And when the tool broke and
a new one was required, the miner must remember where the tool mine was,
travel there with the idea in mind to make a new tool. In contrast,
chimpanzees may remember where rocks suitable for cracking nuts are,
but they do not travel so far nor engage in such complex behavior in
order to fashion the tool. (In the case of nut cracking, they engage in
absolutely no manufacturing work but use the stones as they are found).

The interesting thing about this mine is what was being mined. The
ancient peoples were not mining flint, which would be considered useful
for obtaining food. Lion cave is a pigment mine. They were mining red
ochre, a pigment used by primitive peoples as body paint for their
rituals. The amount of material moved is quite impressive. In the
literature, I have heard estimates of 50-100 tons. But if the entire
cavern carved out by the miners was hematite, I calculate that nearly
2700 tons of material was removed from this site. This is an incredible
amount of material for paleolithic man to have removed from the site.
Obviously, red ochre was an important item. What was it used for?

Dickson gives a history of the use of red ochre. He writes (Dickson,
1990, pp 42-43):

"Specimens of ochre have been reported from some of the oldest
occupation or activity sites known from the Lower Paleolithic period in
the Old World, including Bed II at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, Ambrona in
Spain, Terra Amata in France, and Becov in Czechoslovakia. The use of
ochre apparently increases during the Middle Paleolithic period in the
Mousterian tradition and becomes common in the Upper Paleolithic period.
"Ochre has no apparent practical or technological use until the
development of iron metallurgy sometime in the second millennium before
Christ when it becomes a principal ore for iron smelting. Nonetheless,
many of the Paleolithic period ochre specimens show evidence of having
been worked or utilized in some fashion. For example, the two lumps of
ochre recovered at Olduvai Gorge show signs of having been struck
directly by hammerstone blows (M. Leakey 1971). Howell (1965:129)
states that the ochre specimen recovered at Ambrona showed evidence of
shaping and trimming, although Butzer (1980:635) asserts this may only
be natural cleavage. Still the ochre comes from the same horizon as the
famous linear arrangement of elephant tusks and bones and was probably
brought to the site by the hominids who are thought to have killed and
butchered elephants there.
"At Terra Amata, which was occupied around 300,000 B.P., de Lumley
(1969:49) reports a number of ochre specimens recovered from the two
occupation layers associated with the pole structures uncovered at the
site. Specimens of red, yellow, and brown were recovered and the range
of color variations suggests the ochre may have been heated. De Lumley
also reports that the ends of some of the specimens were worn smooth
suggesting they had been used in body painting.
"Clearer evidence of ochre use comes from Becov in Czechoslovakia.
This cave site, occupied ca.250,000 B. P., yielded a specimen of red
ochre that was striated on two faces with marks of abrasion together
with a flat rubbing stone with a granular crystalline surface that had
been abraded in the center possibly during the preparation of ochre
powder (Marshack 1981: 138). Whether or not the rubbing stone was
actually used in the preparation of ochre powder is uncertain, but a
wide area of the occupation floor from which the ochre lump had been
recovered was stained with red ochre powder."

Why was pigment so important to people 70-80,000 and years ago that they
would begin the massive mining operation? Why would they heat it to
alter its color as Dickson suggests? If archaic Homo sapiens,
Neanderthals and Homo erectus were simply intelligent mammals lacking a
religion (as Hugh Ross suggests [Ross, 1991, p. 159-160; 1995, p. 2])
then why all the interest in carrying around useless ochre? There can
only be one reason. Since ochre (mineral: specularite, Fe2O3) can not
be eaten nor used for any utilitarian purpose in a primitive society,
art and ritual are the only remaining possibilities. The active mining
of ochre for the past 80,000 years is highly indicative of a religious
or spiritual sense for that entire time. The occurrence of ochre in
Homo erectus sites as far back as 1.5 million years ago, would also
argue for ritual among them.

Red ochre was found at Jinmium, Australia, the site with art which dates
between 75,000 and 116,000 years ago. (Bower, 1996) Both this and the
above red ochre mine are highly indicative of the ritual and spiritual
lives of those who lived between 50 and 100 thousand years ago.

But this may not be the earliest evidence of a desire for pigment. The
earliest evidence of a red pigment, a weathered basalt which when rubbed
produces red powder, came from Bed II at Olduvai, dated at 1.7 million
years ago (Oakley, 1981, p. 206-207)

Neanderthals, by everyone's admission, used ochre and manganese dioxide
(a black pigment) to color something. Mellars (1996,p. 370) writes:

"The occurrence of what are almost certainly colouring materials
in Middle Palaeolithic contexts is now beyond dispute. The evidence
comes in two main forms: first fragments of iron oxide or red ochre
which, depending on the source, can provide a range of colours from
yellow to deep maroon or red-brown; and black manganese dioxide.
Fragments of ochre have now been recorded from at least a dozen
different Middle Palaeolithic sites in southwestern France, while the
occurrence of manganese dioxide is even more frequent. Evidence that
the materials were used as pigments seems difficult to dispute Many
individual fragments show either clear signs of scraping (presumably to
yield a powder) or well developed facets on one or more surfaces which
suggest that they were applied directly to a hard or soft surface."

With all this use for ochre, it is not surprising to find evidence for

But there is also evidence for flint mining from ancient times.

One cave site in Europe, Bara Bahau, France, shows evidence of pre-upper
Paleolithic mining on the walls of the cave. The cave overlooks the
Vezere River, and throughout the region there are numerous exposures of
chert which show many signs of quarrying. It would be logical to look
in the cave for other outcrops of the flint seam. Examination of the
walls of the cave reveal the following sequence of events. First the
cherts were mined; many of the cherts left in the wall show evidence of
having been hammered in the extraction process. After this there is
evidence of finger marks and cave bear claw marks on the wall. Finally,
someone painted a pictures of horses, cows, felines bears and cervids on
the soft limestone walls above and below the flint. In the process of
painting, the fractured flint was incorporated as parts of the eyes,
ears or hooves of the animals. There is no further evidence of damage
(which mining would cause) to the soft limestone walls. If the mining
of the flint had occurred AFTER the painting, the paintings would have
been damaged, but they weren't. The paintings cover the evidence of the
What age are the pictures? Bednarik, 1992, p. 14 says,

"The mining evidence is most likely of the early Upper
Palaeolithic or of the Mousterian (Mousterian occupation evidence is
present in the cave). "

The Mousterian is the culture which has clearly been demonstrated to
belong to the Neanderthal. Interestingly, one can not say that this
mining is definitely due to modern humans even if it were early Upper
Paleolithic. As Smith, (1991, p. 224) notes, no modern human fossils
have ever been found with the early Upper Paleolithic tools, in spite of
a century and a half of searching. The early Aurignacian (Upper
Paleolithic) occurs in deposits dated to 35,000 years and greater.
Clearly mankind was mining from cave walls prior to the occurrence of
the first anatomically modern human in SW France. Modern man is not
found in France until 5,000 years later than the artwork. Modern man
did not appear in France until 28-30,000 years ago. (Smith, 1991, p.
In eastern Europe, the evidence for mining goes even further back
in time. Gabori-Csank has reported chert mining from a cave in Hungary
in which Mousterian (Neandertal-style) pickaxes were found! Mousterian
tools in Europe are always associated with Neanderthals and date prior
to 40,000 years B.P. Thus, Neanderthal engaged in subterranean mining.
(Gabori-Csank, 1988)

Bednarik (1992, p. 20-21) summarizes the technological and cognitive
requirements for subterranean mining.

"Underground mining involves quite a number of both technological
and cognitive pre-conditions. To begin with, it requires a preparedness
to enter an alien environment which most animal species avoid, or the
behavioural fexibility to manage a perhaps genetically determined
cortical response pattern to fear of caves. This already provides
considerable insights into the level of conscious decision making
required in this context. Next, most of the underground work
presupposes the availability of artificial lighting, and there is some
evidence of lamps and torches having been involved in these quests. It
is also obvious from several of the sites that the mining activities
must have been team work, involving at least two or three people, who no
doubt had to co-ordinate various aspects of their efforts. We know that
a variety of mining tools were involved, and we can assume that items
such as pointed, perhaps fire-hardened wooden wedges were prepared
outside the cave. At a few sites there is evidence of the use of
scaffolding, which would imply even more planning. These observations
together suggest that fairly complex planning patterns need to be
postulated. Finally, some of the caves are of quite difficult access,
and the sheer logistics of the mining operations conducted in them must
have involved engineering skills of an order of magnitude few
archaeologists would be currently prepared to credit any 'pre-Upper
Palaeolithic' people with. Not only does the evidence for these
abilities permit considerably more insight into the cognitive,
intellectual, social and, presumably, linguistic skills of the people
concerned than the futile and yet perennial arguments about language
ability, the hyoid bone and Broca's area, there is still another factor
to be considered.
"I began this paper by explaining, in some detail the diagenetic
conditions in which sedimentary silicas form, and why they occur
primarily as tabular or quasi-tabular deposits. The geological reasons
for this are known to us, and we can broadly explain the processes
involved. But we have no reason to assume that the early miners were
capable of rationalizing about these deposits in quite the same way.
Yet the evidence seems to suggest, in some cases, that they were capable
of predicting the occurrence and spatial extent of an as yet concealed
geological feature. While it may be cognitively easy to follow an
exposed seam, it is quite a different matter to undertake a calculated
course of action that promises no immediate reward, and whose eventual
reward is based entirely on the validity of an abstract prediction.
Consider the procedure depicted in Figure 5: once the seam became
inaccessible to methods of minimal labour input, a decision was made to
remove the massive limestone overburden above the seam. This would have
involved hours of back-breaking and most unpleasant work, without any
guarantee of a reward- were it not for the expectation that the seam
would in fact continue inwards. If it did not, the entire work effort
would have been in vain. This implies that the miners were reasonably
certain that the seam would continue horizontally. In other words they
had the intellectual and cognitive capacity of observing and
understanding a geological formation such as a tabular deposit: and they
were capable of making an informed prediction with a sufficient degree
of conviction to warrant the determined labour expenditure which we find

One should also be aware that Neanderthals are found in rocks dated from
30,000 to 230,000 years ago. If they were capable of mining, then
humanity must extend back that far. In the case of archaic Homo
sapiens, they go back 500,000 years ago, requiring that humanity extend
back that far. Behaviors of this complexity (subterranean mining) are
only engaged in by man. There is NO animal example. Apologists who
believe that Adam was a recent (Upper Paleolithic <35,000 years BP)
anatomically modern human creation, ignore the data for subsurface
mining in more "primitive" hominids, such as Neanderthal and archaic
Homo sapiens. Such views are contrary to the scientific and theological
data available to anyone who wishes to do the proper research. Since
there could not be 3 Adams (a Neanderthal Adam, an Archaic Homo sapien
Adam, and an anatomically modern Adam), one must incorporate beings with
this type of human activity (Neanderthal and archaic Homo sapiens) into
theologically defined man - a being with the image of God.

Behaviors such as I have described here is most certainly NOT incipient
human behavior--it is FULLY human. Christians need to realize that when
we teach our children that fossil man was mere ape-man, not really
human, we are going against the actual evidence of quite human behavior
far into the past. This sets our children up for difficulties if and
when they ever learn what we have ignored. When apologists make the easy
claim that there is no evidence of human behavior from fossil man, they
betray the fact that they have not really looked at the available

Christians should also consider the possibility that my views
just might be correct, i.e., that Adam and the Flood were
millions of years ago (



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Foundation,Fall and Flood