UNM Professor Lawrence Straus recently received a pleasant surprise recently when he found out a newly-published book was dedicated to him. Human Adaptations to the Last Glacial Maximum was derived from a symposium held in his honor in Portugal last year. The conference examined the Solutrean culture of southwest Europe, a topic Straus has specialized in since his University of Chicago Ph.D. dissertation in 1975.
In the introduction of the book, his European colleagues wrote, “One of the high points of the conference was the thematic session organized in honor of Prof. Lawrence Guy Straus, whose seminal and extensive work on the Solutrean adaptations in Northern Iberia has strongly influenced all developments in LGM studies across Iberia and beyond. Prof. Straus is now retired, but we hope that he can keep contributing for many years with his invaluable insights on the Late Pleistocene adaptations in Western Europe. He authored the first chapter of this book, and we gratefully dedicate the whole volume to him and his remarkable career.”
Although he’s semi-retired, Straus remains interested in anthropological research. He is a Leslie Spier Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the UNM Department of Anthropology.
“I am a working retiree since 2016 and continue as editor of UNM’s flagship international journal, the Journal of Anthropological Research, which has just completed 75 years of quarterly publication. I’ve been editor for a third of that time, 25 years,” Straus said. “I was an active teaching faculty member for 41 years. My last Ph.D. student, Meng Zhang, finished last May and immediately got a professorial position at Fudan University in Shanghai, which has one of China’s top archeology departments.”
Straus’s special interest in the Solutrean culture revolves around a time of climate crisis in Europe and its threat to human populations. “Solutrean” refers to a style of toolmaking and sites have been found in modern-day France, Spain, and Portugal. The Last Glacial Maximum was a period when vast ice sheets covered much of Europe and other parts of the world and temperatures were at record lows from around 25,000 to 20,000 years ago. Humans and animals such as red deer and salmon migrated south to somewhat warmer climates of southern France and the Iberian Peninsula.
Straus wrote the first chapter of the book, arguing that the human population barely survived and eventually mixed with other southern populations before eventually migrating back to northern Europe as temperatures warmed again.
“I argue that, although the numbers of sites increased, they were small in size and evidence from the occupations themselves suggest that the bands were just large enough for a human population to survive,” he explained. “This scenario, which I have long argued based on sites and radiocarbon dating evidence, is spectacularly supported now by ancient DNA from sites in western Europe – notably from our own 19,000-year-old Red Lady of El Miron Cave in Cantabria [Spain] – whose genes reflect her descent from an earlier Upper Paleolithic population in Belgium that retreated to Spain and mixed with people from another southern refugium in Italy. They were, in turn, reflected in people who recolonized northeast France, Belgium and Germany in the Late Glacial by some 16,000 years ago after the worst of the climatic crisis.”
“Having the book dedicated to me is a great honor, because the colleagues who published articles in this book are great specialists in their own rights and feel that I have contributed significantly to the field and to their own research and careers, both by asking new questions and posing hypotheses and by trying to test them in my four decades of archeological excavations and analyses in Spain, Portugal, France, and Belgium. I am humbled but pleased,” Straus concluded.
This isn’t the first time Straus has had a book dedicated to him. Earlier this year, a group of former students and colleagues honored Straus with a Festschrift, a collection of articles titled Recent advances in quaternary prehistory: Papers in honor of Lawrence Guy Straus, published by Quaternary International, the official publication of the International Union for Quaternary Research, an organization for which he served as long-time Human Evolution Commission president, member of the U.S. National Committee, and guest-editor of six QI volumes during his career.
The Festschrift consists of 14 research studies from North Africa, Asia, the Iberian Peninsula, Western Europe, and North America, and represents some of the latest work by colleagues who often built upon significant discoveries and ideas from Straus’s career. Many of the papers in this volume present findings from studies on the Iberian Peninsula and show the outsized influence Straus has had on its archaeology. The 224-page, large-format volume includes an editorial by Straus’s former Ph.D. student Lisa Fontes, who oversaw the collection of articles by authors from around the globe including the United States, Portugal, Spain, Japan, Germany, Belgium, Australia and United Kingdom.