Study by UA, University of Cantabria and University of New Mexico on Red Lady’s burial site in El Mirón cave, Cantabria, study

By 21 diciembre, 2018Natural Sciences

The Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports has published a study by experts from the universities of Alicante, Cantabria and New Mexico on the Red Lady’s burial site in El Mirón cave, where ochres appear as part of a burial ritual, which was infrequent in the Magdalenian period.

The study, led by UA Archaeometry Office director Romualdo Seva, UA experts M. Dolores Landete and Jerónimo Juan, University of Cantabria professor Manuel R. Gónzalez and University of New Mexico scholar Lawrence G. Straus, reveals that the use of ochres found in the Red Lady’s burial site and in a large stone block next to it, in El Mirón cave, Cantabria, come from Monte Buciero, and relates them to an infrequent burial ritual in the Initial Magdalenian period.

The study, according to the scientific journal, confirms the hypothesis of the first study, conducted in the year 2015, about the ochres associated with the Red Lady’s burial, which already showed that the Red Lady’s burial deposit contained iron oxides and idiomorphic hematite. These were not from sources near the site, but possibly from Monte Buciero, in Santoña.

“In the second stage of the study the sediments of the burial site were analysed, as well as the samples taken during prospection on Monte Buciero, the ochre deposits found in a large limestone block immediately adjacent to the burial spot and an area of the cave wall next to the engraving of a horse,” Seva explained.

The researcher states that it is possible to “confirm, based on the different geochemical analyses conducted, that the ochre found in the burial site was brought from Monte Buicero.”

Besides looking at the origin and dating of the ochres, one of the goals of the study was to “gather as much information as possible to find out the relationship between the ochre used for the burial and the limestone block next to the burial site.”

According to the researcher, “the limestone block adjacent to the burial site crashed down during the period prior to the Lower Magdalenian age, i.e. before the burial, and the most captivating aspect is that the western face of the block had numerous linear engravings (including the possible depiction of a vulva), which were covered afterwards.”

The research team employed a variety of instrumental and analytical techniques that demonstrated that the ochre used at the burial had been transported from Monte Buciero, in Santoña, and that in order to paint the eastern face of the block, in the area adjacent to the burial site, the type of ochre was the same as that of the burial, although bone micro-fragments had been added. These micro-fragments presumably contained some undetected binder of animal origin or from vegetable fat.

Moreover, they discovered that the ochre employed in the pigment on the painted wall in the vestibule, adjacent to the burial area and where the image of a horse is found, was painted using different iron oxides (goethite subject to temperature), redder in hue and extremely fine-grained.

The team also detected that ochres employed in the upper layers of the burial site “were completely different, in their making as well as in their grain size and composition, and there were significant differences between paint on the block and the adjacent pigment in the vestibule.”

Such differences “confirm that the painted block next to the cave is directly related to the Red Lady’s burial, and its dyeing is undoubtedly part of the ritual associated with the burial.”

“The fact that the Red Lady was buried, considering there is no other evidence of full corpses being buried throughout the Magdalenian period in the Iberian Peninsula, suggests that she received a special treatment,” maybe because she was “an important person within the clan.”