World News: Mexico, Germany, Kazakhstan

Ochre mining in Mexico

Evidence for the mining of red ochre has been discovered in the now-submerged caves of Quintana Roo in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Dated to between 12,000 and 10,000 years ago, this is the earliest-known exploitation of this mineral in the Americas.

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Over the course of several dives between 2017 and 2019, the team – led by divers from CINDAQ in association with the Subdirección de Arqueología Subacuática (part of Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia) – recovered mine pits and well-preserved artefacts, including digging tools made out of speleothems (or cave formations). It is not known what the ochre was used for, but in other parts of the Americas during this period it was used to decorate tools and personal ornaments, and to honour the dead.

Portions for foxes

New isotopic evidence from Palaeolithic sites in south-western Germany suggests that foxes began eating human leftovers as early as 42,000 years ago. The study, led by researchers at the University of Tübingen, found that before this time foxes appear to have subsisted on a diet of small mammals and scraps left by larger carnivores. But, by the time modern human became established in the area between 42,000 and 30,000 years ago, the foxes’ diet shifted to consist predominantly of reindeer – an animal much too large for a fox to hunt.

Chris Baumann, who led the study, said: ‘We have not found a preference for reindeer in any other large predator diet, but found a lot of reindeer remains in the cave sites, which suggests that the foxes stayed closer to the caves and thus closer to humans.’

Feline finds on the Silk Road

The well-preserved skeleton of a cat has been discovered during an excavation at Dzhankent, Kazakhstan – a 7th-century AD settlement along the Silk Road. Analysis of the remains indicated that the cat was at least one year old and that it had been deliberately buried – suggesting that it was given some type of care. This would make it the first domesticated cat from this period (it dates to AD 775-940) to be found in the region.

As Heinrich Härke and Irina Arzhantseva, the archaeologists who led the excavation, explained: ‘The cat belongs to this first phase of Dzhankent, when it was a “native” site with, in all likelihood, a kind of Khorezmian trading post.’