12 June 2009

Cueva Tecolote Una Vez!

11 June 2009

Image: Tim and I pulling data off one of our instruments located on the surface. Credit: Lynn Hicks.

We will have to do a bit more hiking during this expedition, which is great; however, the longer hikes cut into our time in the field. The park recently closed most of the roads leading to the foothills containing our study caves. So, we have to park in one of two locations and then hike to the caves.

Image: Gearing up at the trailhead. We're just about to hike into the caves.

The sensor team moved to another cave today. We pulled data off the sensors in Barn Owl cave. We finished this by midday, which gave us a little time to explore this cave.

The mapping team required two days to collect volume data and map of Luna y Media. One of our team members became mildly ill while mapping this cave. We suspect it could be related to the dust. We are taking every effort to wear dust masks while working underground; however, there are times when the masks become cumbersome and folks simply go without them. We will continue to remain vigilant on this issue, and take steps to insure the team is reducing their daily dust intake.

Image: Tim and Lynn working to pull data off the instruments.

Image: Evidence of salt mining. Notice the angularity on the exposed salt. This is evidence of the salt being flaked off this exposure. The cave floor was also littered with salt flakes. There were also fire hearths, wood and charcoal littering the ground. It seems they were using the fire to provide light to extract salt from this cave.

This cave was extensively used by prehistoric peoples, presumably the AtacameƱos or perhaps the Incas. We found numerous locations where fires were built, and we were also able to tentatively correlate this to a salt mining operation. The Incas were masters at exploiting commodities and developing trade routes throughout this area. With the major Incan administrative center of Cartarpe just a few miles away, I suspect the Incas were coordinating the removal of salt in pristine extraction locations. We also found ceramics in the back of this cave, and stomach remains of a ruminant, presumably one of the four llama species. It is quite likely there were multiple uses of this cave over the past several thousand years. The exact uses of this cave will probably continue to elude us, and the timeline for this usage will likely remain a mystery.

Image: A mandible, presumably from a Llama species, found in a rocky mud conglomerate mid-cave.

These shots were taken as we were driving through San Pedro en route to the field. Unfortunately, I think the woman who was herding these animals was not pleased with me taking photos.

Tomorrow we will have the day off. Everyone but Tim and I are going to Bolivia for the day. They will be visiting two lagunas on the Chile-Bolivia border that I visited back in November.

Tim will continue with the analysis on our day off. I will go to CONAF to give a presentation on our work in the Atacama.


Image: A small heard of llamas and cows being herded through town by a Quechuan woman and her dogs. She wasn't overly keen on me taking photos of her animals. I didn't realize this until I said "buenas dias." After saying it twice, she looked tersely at me and said "buenas." The use of "buenas" instead of "buenas dias" or "buenas noches" is common here in Chile.

Image: Another image of the herd of livestock and the Quechuan woman.

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