In a small gallery of the Cave of Treasure in Cadereyta de Montes, Querétaro, the federal Ministry of Culture, through a team from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), recovered one of the few sets of hunting tools from pre-Hispanic times discovered in Mexico to date. It consists of an atlatl (spear) and two wooden darts used in the first century of our era.

The discovery was documented by members of the Querétaro Speleologists Association: Carolina Camacho, Paulo Campos, Héctor Fuentes, and Jorge Ramos. While exploring the cave located in the community of Rancho Quemado, they spotted the objects and informed the INAH Querétaro Center for their safeguarding, conservation, and research.

In April 2023, archaeologists Carlos Viramontes Anzures, Jesús Eduardo Medina Villalobos, and Ricardo Leonel Cruz Jiménez ascended a complex ravine under the supervision of the association members and the guidance of Portuguese speleologist Paulo Campos.

The cave is situated 200 meters above the ravine floor, and once at its entrance, they ventured 200 meters through a narrow passage to reach the gallery.

Within this underground branch, with an average height of 80 centimeters, specialists observed an atlatl (51.5 centimeters long), two fragmented darts (66 and 79 centimeters), and a pair of culturally modified wooden sticks (135 and 172 centimeters), likely used as digging sticks and multifunctional tools.

During the exploration, the INAH team did not find other pre-Hispanic archaeological elements in the cave to provide an interpretation of why they were present in that remote location. However, the results of sample analyses will be announced on January 27, 2024, at 10:00 AM during the conference cycle at the Templo Mayor Museum, related to the temporary exhibition “Insignias de los dioses” (Insignias of the Gods).

Following conservator Paula García Reyes’s recommendations, the tool set was meticulously recovered and packaged using polyethylene fibers, bubble wrap, plastic film, and polyethylene foam plates.

Subsequently, they were taken to the INAH Querétaro Center, awaiting further studies such as the taxonomic identification of the wood, and they will be integrated into the permanent exhibition at the Regional Museum of Querétaro.

The dry context of the Cave of Treasure allowed the preservation of these elements for nearly two millennia, as indicated by absolute radiocarbon dating of one of the darts at the Mass Spectrometry with Accelerators Laboratory of the UNAM Institute of Physics. Drs. Corina Solís Rosales and María Rodríguez Ceja conducted the dating, revealing a range of years from 7 to 132 AD.

Archaeologist Viramontes believes that the discovery of these tools should not be viewed in isolation but as the latest contribution to the semi-desert regions of Querétaro and Guanajuato, where men and women engaged in hunting and gathering migrated in search of sustenance over nine thousand years. Over 260 rock art sites in the area bear witness to this fascinating aspect of their societies.

In 2023, Carlos Viramontes, Jesús Medina, and Claudia Jiménez, who will formalize the project “Landscape, Rock Art, and Occupation in Querétaro and Guanajuato” this year, recorded almost a dozen new sites in Querétaro territory, displaying hunting scenes.

Three decades ago, our knowledge of these groups was based on 16th-century sources, portraying them as barbaric. It wasn’t until the late 1950s that the foundations were laid to delve into the subject when Cynthia Irwin-Williams excavated Cueva El Tecolote in Tequisquiapan, uncovering materials, including projectile points, dating back to 7,000 BC.

In 1989, the INAH Querétaro Center recorded similar dated elements at Mesa de León, a site near the Cave of Treasure, where we now recovered the atlatl and darts. These pieces contribute to understanding hunter-gatherer societies, present in the region for at least 9,000 years, surviving two centuries beyond the arrival of the Spaniards, Viramontes explains.

The archaeologists conclude that the mystery of this discovery will persist until new archaeological work is carried out in the surrounding areas of the cave, allowing the pieces of the puzzle to be connected and understanding why this equipment was in that cavity, how, and why it got there.


Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) de México

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