‘The Lady of Bonifacio’, no other than our ancestor ..

la dame de Bonifacio Patrimoniu di CorsicaThe first known Corsican is, a woman – dating back to around 6750 BC. She was discovered in 1972, by François de Lanfranchi, a professor of the University of Corte, in the Araguina-Sennola shelter – a cave at the bottom of a gully in Bonifacio.

This cave opens within the limestone cliffs of the southern tip of Corsica, at around 200m from the current shoreline. It was discovered almost by accident, during works that were being undertaken by the landowner. Immediately, the prehistoric sections from Provence-Côte d’Azur intervened, and excavating started in July 1966, under the direction of François de Lanfranchi and Michel Claude Weiss. An important amount of furnishings were found, but, the most extraordinary discovery was, of course, that of Lucy, six years after the first sounding. The Lady of Bonifacio is the oldest human skeleton ever found on the island.

Many archaeologists and scientists have studied this little lady (she measured 1m55) and have been capable of reconstituting her life. Thus, we know she lived around the year 6000 BC, and she died towards the age of 35. She lived on fish, and also small mammals hunted down around the environment of the cave. She must have been wounded during her youth, and was disabled afterwards. She appeared to suffer from growth problems too, and her left side was paralysed, also a malformation of the heel – her death was certainly due to an infectious mandibular osteomyelitis, that caused sepsis. She lay in rest, in an oblong basin, lined with rough stones. Her head forced in a right rotation, presented in profile. Her mouth was closed, and both feet resting on a rock. The remains had been covered with a reddish substance and immediately covered with sand – maybe a funerary practise in order to preserve these remains. Nearby, several limestone blocks appeared to form an enstonement.

The revelations of this discovery are truly amazing and filled with insight as to the conditions of life during this period. They especially show us two aspects of traditional insular life:

the cult of the dead, for she was buried according to a ceremony (lying on her back, arms alongside her body, feet together and head on the right shoulder)

the solidarity within the group; for taken into account that she was disabled, she lived entirely relying on this group, without whose help she could never have survived.

The Araguina-Sennola site, having been occupied since the Mesolithic up to the Middle Ages, shows different archaeological sectors and that of the XVIII sector, within which this feminine subject was found. This stratigraphy, and one of the most beautiful in the Mediterranean, has 18 archaeological levels; divided into 53 strata, superposed, over 6m in height. The excavation of the site, which took ten campaigns (1966-1975), has certainly assisted in refining knowledge of various prehistoric and historical cultures of the island. The cave is classified since 1988.

Lucy, our great ancestor now lays at the Museum of Prehistory, of Levie (whilst Bonifacio observes a cast of the skeleton at the memorial of the Great Bastion).


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