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16 September 2011
6,000-year-old Romeo and Juliet

In 2007 a team of archaeologists, led by Elena Maria Menotti, were excavating in a village called Valdaro, near Mantua in northern Italy, when they discovered the skeletons of two intertwined bodies. The burial dates from the Neolithic period, between 5,000 and 4,000 BCE. Double burials are rare in Neolithic times but the positioning of this couple was unique, as they were facing each other with arms and legs intertwined.
     The excavation of a skeleton would normally involve the documentation and removal of the bones, one at a time. But in this case that would have destroyed the unique positioning. So the team decided to lift the block of soil surrounding trhe bones out of the ground intact. Analysis of the remains revealed that they belong to a male and a female, aged between 18 and 20 years and they rapidly became known as the 'Lovers of Valdaro'. Whilst the theory that the 'Lovers' had been killed became popular (Mantua - along with Verona - is the city associated with Shakespeare's ill fated couple Romeo & Juliet), no evidence was found to support a violent death.
     DNA testing, 3-D laser scanning and X-Ray scanning are ongoing at the Musei Civici in Como and it is hoped to have more information soon. The remains were put on public view for the first time a few days ago and, because of the association with Romeo & Juliet and Verdi's opera Rigoletto (also set locally and telling the story of lovers & death) the 'Lovers of Valdaro' have become very popular and an association called 'Lovers in Mantua' is looking to raise enough funds to house them permanently. Professor Silvia Bagnoli, the president of the association, has said that half a million Euros would be needed to provide a permanent exhibition and multimedia space for the lovers.

Edited from La Stampa, Yahoo! News (13 September 2011)

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