UNM professor’s finding gains global attention


ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – A University of New Mexico professor helped make a major discovery that has been getting worldwide attention.

From El Miron Cave on Spain’s northern coast to the cave he spends most of his time in, buried in books in his Albuquerque home office, Lawrence Straus has worked in archaeology for more than 50 years.

“Generally we find lots of garbage in this extremely patient, slow, grueling, miserable work,” Straus said.

However, five years ago, the UNM Leslie Spier Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and his colleague Manuel Gonzalez Morales from the University of Cantabria made the find of a lifetime in Spain.

“This is what remains of her skeleton basically,” Straus said, pointing to a picture.

The image showed the remains of a woman who’d been ceremonially buried 19,000 years ago.

She is named the Red Lady after the red ochre with crystals that stained her bones and burial site.

“You know when you’re in the burial layer, which is pretty thin, because it literally sparkles at you,” Straus said. “I’ve never had anything like that in my entire career of digging, really quite amazing actually.”

It was the first burial from that time period ever found in the Iberian Peninsula.

She was a 35 to 40-year-old woman who lived off of food like deer, salmon and mushrooms.

Her special treatment in death is still a mystery, but what Straus and his colleagues have discovered about her life has gained global attention.

“Places as far afield as Portugal and Turkey and throughout Europe and the United States,” Straus said.

In August, one of the leading archaeological journals in the world, the Journal of Archaeological Science, published not only an article but an entire issue dedicated to the Red Lady.

“Years of work have paid off in something spectacular,” Straus said.

Straus and his colleagues are still waiting on DNA test results that they are hoping will teach them even more about the mysterious Red Lady.

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