Monday, October 30, 2023


This seems appropriate with Halloween coming up . . .

Amusing Planet
July 31, 2023

Embracing, the act of holding someone or something close, goes far beyond a physical gesture; it is a powerful expression of love that transcends language, culture and time. Whether it's a warm hug between friends, a tight squeeze from a parent to a child, or an intimate embrace between romantic partners, the act of embracing communicates a deep and profound connection.

When archeologists dig up graves, sometimes they find manifestations of love through this form of expression—skeletal bodies of couples buried together, still locked in embrace. Who were they and how did they end up six feet under?

Modern scientific methods have allowed us to unravel some of these mysteries, giving us an opportunity to glimpse into the final moments of these prehistoric couples, bound together even in death.

Lovers of Valdaro

In 2007, archeologists discovered a pair of human skeletons buried face to face with their arms around each other in a lover’s embrace. The discovery was made at a Neolithic tomb in San Giorgio near Mantua, Italy. Carbon dating showed the couple died approximately 6,000 years ago.

At first, it was thought that the couple had met a tragic end. The skeletons, identified as those of a young man and woman aged between 18 and 20 years old, seemed to align perfectly with the backdrop of an Italian region renowned for its numerous tales of ill-fated romance. Mantua, the city where Romeo was banished and mistakenly informed of Juliet's death, and which inspired Giuseppe Verdi's opera Rigoletto, featuring another tale of star-crossed love and demise, fit seamlessly into this narrative.

But that didn’t seemed to be the case. There was no evidence of violent death, no fracture, or any other signs of trauma. Rather, they found a long flint blade along the thigh, and two flint knives under the pelvis. These indicate that the flint tools were buried along with the people as grave goods, and their “embrace” was carefully positioned when they were placed in the grave.

In 2014, the excavated skeletons were permanently displayed inside a glass case in the National Archaeological Museum of Mantua.

Embracing Skeletons of Alepotrypa

This burial was discovered in the Alepotrypa cave in Laconia, Greece. The pair were dated to 3,800 BCE and DNA analysis confirmed that the remains belong to a man and woman who died when they were 20 to 25 years of age.

The Alepotrypa Cave is renowned as one of Europe's largest Neolithic burial grounds. Nestled within a mountain above Diros Bay, its vast interior chambers extend more than half a kilometer. Throughout the Neolithic period in Greece, from 6000 to 3200 B.C., the cave served as a final resting place for numerous individuals, with at least 170 sets of bones discovered inside.

Around 3000 B.C., an earthquake shook the region, leading to the cave entrance's collapse. This event inadvertently sealed and preserved the cave's contents. Rediscovered in 1958, excavations began in the 1970s, unearthing a wealth of archaeological treasures.

Among the most recent finds, outside the cave on a terraced slope, are three double burials dating back to approximately 4200 to 3800 B.C. One of these burials contains the remains of a child and a newborn. In another, the bones of a young man and a young woman rest facing each other in curled positions, knees tucked beneath their chins. The final burial, however, captivated archaeologists with its extraordinary sight—an embracing couple.

Bill Parkinson, an associate curator of Eurasian anthropology at Chicago's Field Museum and part of the excavation team, described the scene as the couple appearing to be "totally spooning." The two bodies lie in an unmistakable pose of affection, with the boy as the big spoon and the girl as the little spoon. Their limbs intertwine, their arms draped over each other, frozen in a timeless hug.

Anastasia Papathanasiou, a Greek archaeologist who has been involved in the site's exploration since the late 1980s, suggests that the couple likely died in this tender embrace or were carefully arranged in this posture soon after their passing.

Hasanlu Lovers

The Hasanlu Lovers were discovered at the Teppe Hasanlu archaeological site, located in northwestern Iran. This site was once the thriving city of Hasanlu, but in 800 BCE it was destroyed by an unknown invader. The inhabitants were mercilessly slain and left unburied, while much of the city was engulfed in flames during the invasion.

Centuries later, when the site was excavated, archeologists unearthed hundreds of skeletons, and among them were the entwined remains of the “lovers”. Nestled together in a mudbrick and plaster bin, they were found facing each other and appeared to be in an embrace. The left skeleton even reached out a hand to caress the face of the other, with their arms encircling each other in an intimate gesture.

Although some signs of trauma were evident around the time of their death, no definitive fatal injuries were observed in their bones. However, this lack of evidence doesn't rule out death by injuries, as some soft tissue injuries may not have left discernible marks on the skeletons.

There is no definitive explanation as to how the two skeletons ended up in the bin. It is assumed that they crawled into the bin to escape the killings, and somehow got trapped. They probably died of asphyxiation.

At first, it was thought that the skeletons represented a male-female pair. However, through DNA analysis, it was determined that both individuals were male—one aged approximately 19–22 years old and the other between 30 and 35 years old. The revelation of their shared gender prompted media speculation regarding the nature of their relationship. But archaeologist Kristina Killgrove contends that it is erroneous to impose contemporary assumptions about sex, gender, and sexuality onto historical contexts.

Page Selinsky writes for the Penn Museum: “Human experience is full of difficult times and the need for comfort from others. As these two individuals and the other inhabitants of Hasanlu faced their darkest hour together, an embrace from a friend, lover, relative, or even a stranger might have been a natural outcome of extreme duress.”

Lovers of Cluj-Napoca

This pair of human skeletons were discovered in the cemetery of a former Dominican convent in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. The skeletons belong to a man and a woman around 30 years of age. The couple were buried facing each other, and with their hands interlocked.

The monastery was built around 1455 on the site of a Roman church and an earlier 13th century monastery. It was active only for a century until it underwent secularization in 1556 during the turbulent times of the Reformation. As a result, the historical context of the lovers' story falls within the time span between the 1450s and 1556. This timeframe is further supported by the coffin nails' material and style, which align with the date range of 1450-1550.

The man appears to have been killed by a blunt-force blow that broke his sternum, and while there is no immediately obvious cause of death for the woman, it is possible that both were murdered and buried together.

Lovers of Modena

The Lovers of Modena were discovered in a cemetery in Modena, in northern Italy. The two skeletons were buried with their hands interlocked and are believed to have been buried between the 4th and 6th century AD. Originally it was assumed that the two were composed of a male and a female, but upon scientific analysis of enamel peptides it was confirmed that the skeletons belong to two males. Researchers believe the two might have been siblings, cousins or soldiers who died together in battle. Some skeletons of other individuals discovered in the same area showed signs of trauma, probably related to death during times of violent conflict.

The pair are now on display at the Civic Museum of Modena

The Embracing Lovers of Datong

Two ancient skeletons wrapped in an eternal embrace was discovered at a construction site in Datong, in Shanxi province, China, in 2020. The remains likely belonged to a man and woman who lived during the Northern Wei period (386 to 534 C.E.) They were positioned with their arms wrapped around each other’s waists and the woman’s face pressed against the man’s shoulder.

The man’s skeleton shows signs of an unhealed injury to his right arm. Conversely, the woman appeared to be without injury, which led the researchers to speculate on two potential scenarios. One hypothesis was that she might have taken her own life after the man's demise, choosing to be buried alongside him. Alternatively, it is also possible that both individuals passed away simultaneously, possibly due to an illness.

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