2000 years ago the Inca were mining hematite. This fascinating bit of early mining history comes by way of a report from MSNBC. Here are some abstracts from their report:

The mine, dubbed Mina Primavera, was discovered by traveling miners in the Ingenio Valley of the Andes Mountains in southern Peru. Vaughn, with archaeologist Moises Linares and colleagues, then spent four years excavating and researching it.

The scientists determined the mine was a human-made cave first created roughly 2,000 years ago. The mine, which is nearly 700 cubic meters in size — about seven times the volume of a double-decker bus — is in a cliffside facing a modern ochre mine.

Vaughn and his team discovered a number of artifacts in Mina Primavera, including corncobs, gourd fragments, stone tools, beads made of shell and stone, and shards of textiles and pottery.

"We didn't find any habitations near the mine — it looks as if the miners camped out in the mine itself," Vaughn told LiveScience. "We have maize cobs, so people were eating there; fragments of bottle gourd, used to hold water; fragments of textiles, some probably for clothing, some of which were stained, possibly to carry processed hematite back; shells of Spondylus, the thorny oyster, which was used for fertility rituals in the Andes."

The small ceramic fragments, "about the size of a penny, had distinct designs on them that are characteristic of the early Nasca civilization," he explained.