On a wet winter’s day, we finally went to visit one of the legendery sites of Ostuni, in the grotta of Santa Maria di Agnano. Just a couple of kilometers outside the beautiful white city, there is a little visited site where the skeleton of a young pregnant woman who died about 25 thousand years ago was found. But this was no ordinary woman, in an area where even today the average height of the local population is little over five foot, she was over six foot tall. Her foetus is nearly fully formed and amazingly preserved. It is thought that she was worshipped, even after death, as a wonder of physical being. Her untimely death is now attributed to an infection of some sort, apparently common given the almost exclusive meat diet of the time, with little or no vitamins from vegetables. Her skeleton was adorned with flints and other things of contemporary value, and her skull adorned with a cap made of shells, almost identical to one found in Austria from a similar time.
Amazing. But it doesn’t end there. Next to her, discovered some time later, lies the body of a man, of equally large stature, also lying in the foetal position but facing the other way. And some 2000 years older. And then, in the cave next door is the remains of a 7th century chapel, dedicated to the virgin Mary and built while the Paleolithic bodies remained undiscovered. One of the frescoes is still in tact.
Just outside the cave is another skeleton, lying in a shallow grave. In this place of ancient history, these bones are deemed to be of “just some old hermit”.
Tours of this fascinating and magical place can be arranged through the Ostuni library.