11 February 2007
Prehistoric skeletons found locked in eternal embrace
Archaeologists have unearthed two skeletons from the Neolithic period locked in a tender embrace and buried outside Mantua (Italy). Buried between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, the prehistoric pair are believed to have been a man and a woman and are thought to have died young, as their teeth were found intact, said Elena Menotti, the archaeologist who led the dig. "As far as we know, it's unique," Menotti said. "Double burials from the Neolithic are unheard of, and these are even hugging," she added. The two skeletons are now called 'The Valdaro lovers' from the area where they were found.
Archaeologists digging in the region have found some 30 burial sites, all single, as well as the remains of prosperous villages filled with artifacts made of flint, pottery and animal horns. The burial site was located during construction work for a factory building in the outskirts of Mantua. Alongside the couple, archaeologists found flint tools, including arrowheads and a knife, Menotti said.
The skeleton on the left has a flint arrow head near the cervical vertebrae. The skeleton on the right has a very long flint blade along its thigh. Archaeologists found other two flint knives under the pelvis of the right skeleton. The flint weapons are bright white: they could either be part of the funeral equipment or weapons used to kill the individual on the left and to sacrifice the one on the right. Flints came from Lessinia (a mountainous area north of Verona). There is a another solitary skeleton one metre apart. Experts will now study the artifacts and the skeletons to determine the burial site's age and how old the two were when they died, Ms Menotti said.
Although the Mantua pair strike a rare and touching pose, archaeologists have found prehistoric burials in which the dead hold hands or have other contact, said Luca Bondioli, an anthropologist at Rome's National Prehistoric and Ethnographic Museum. The find has "more of an emotional than a scientific value." But it does highlight how the relationship people have with each other and with death has not changed much from the period in which humanity first settled in villages, learning to farm the land and tame animals, he said.
Establishing the cause of death could prove almost impossible, unless they were killed by a debilitating disease, a knife or something else that might have left marks on the bones, Menotti said. The two bodies, which cuddle closely while facing each other on their sides, were probably buried at the same time, an indication of a possible sudden and tragic death, Bondioli said. "It's rare for two young people to die at the same time, and that makes us want to know why and who they were, but it will be very difficult to find out." He said DNA testing could determine whether the two were related, "but that still leaves other hypotheses; the Romeo and Juliet possibility is just one of many."
Sources: La Gazzetta di Mantova (6 February 2007), Associated Press, BBC News, Yahoo! News (7 February 2007), Associated Press, Yahoo! News (8 February 2007)