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The Stone Age Couple Locked in Eternal Embrace

The Lovers of Valdaro, aged around 20 at the time of their passing, met their fate without any evidence of a violent demise.
The Lovers of Valdaro, aged around 20 at the time of their passing, met their fate without any evidence of a violent demise. Credit: Dagmar Hollmann / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

A stone age couple locked in an eternal embrace was discovered in 2007 by a group of archaeologists in a tomb near Mantua, a region in Lombardy, Italy.

Dubbed the Lovers of Valdaro is a pair of skeletons lying face to face, their bodies entwined in what appeared to be a loving embrace.

The sight of the skeletons brought to mind the tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet, two ill-fated lovers whose lives met a sorrowful end. As archaeologists examined the Valdaro Lovers, they made several intriguing findings.

Findings of the discovery of the stone age couple

To begin with, the couple perished approximately 6,000 years ago during the Neolithic period. Double burials from that time period were already quite rare, but the positioning of this couple made the discovery even more exceptional.

Moreover, the young man and woman were both around 20 years old at the time of their demise. There were no signs of violence in their deaths, and it seems their bodies were arranged in this intimate pose after they had passed away.

In an interview with The Daily Mail, Menotti expressed her profound excitement about the finding, stating, “I have been involved in lots of digs all over Italy, but nothing has excited me as much as this. I’ve been doing this job for 25 years. I’ve done digs at Pompeii, all the famous sites. But I’ve never been so moved, because this is the discovery of something truly special.”

Despite the fascination surrounding the Valdaro Lovers, their true identities and the story of their lives remain shrouded in mystery. Who were these individuals, and what circumstances led to their intimate burial?

These questions continue to captivate the imaginations of researchers and enthusiasts alike, as they seek to unravel the secrets held by these ancient remains.

Resemblance to Romeo and Juliet

The photographs of the Lovers of Valdaro evoked a poignant narrative that bore a resemblance to Shakespeare’s renowned tragedy. In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is banished to Mantua following his duel with Tybalt Capulet.

Upon his return to Verona, he tragically learns of Juliet’s supposed death, igniting the chain of events that culminate in the demise of both star-crossed lovers.

Early speculation surrounding the Valdaro Lovers revolved around the theory that the man, depicted on the left, had met a violent end, and that the woman had subsequently been ritually sacrificed to accompany his spirit in the afterlife.

Initial observations seemed to align with this theory. The male skeleton was discovered with a flint arrowhead embedded in his neck, and the female skeleton had a long stone blade positioned near her thigh, along with two flint knives beneath her pelvis.

However, upon closer examination of the bones, no evidence was found to indicate that their deaths had been the result of violence or aggression.

No evidence of Neolithic settlement in Valdaro

Interestingly, historians have not found any evidence of a Neolithic settlement in the Valdaro region. Instead, it is believed that the area was once a vast expanse of marshland intersected by rivers.

While this environment played a crucial role in preserving the bodies of lovers over thousands of years, it provides little insight into their personal lives or the reasons behind their peculiar burial arrangements.

What the future holds for the stone age couple?

One week after the remarkable discovery, a new question emerged: What would become of the Valdaro Lovers? Typically, when ancient remains are found during archaeological excavations, the bones are carefully transported to a laboratory for individual analysis, allowing researchers to reconstruct a broader understanding of the person’s life and death.

However, the Lovers of Valdaro presented a unique dilemma. For 6,000 years, they had remained locked in their loving embrace. Would they be separated for the sake of scientific examination?

Thankfully, Elena Menotti swiftly arrived at a decision. In an interview, she stated, “We want to keep them just as they have been all this time — together.”

Instead of extracting and separating each bone for subsequent reassembly, the archaeologists chose to carefully extract and transport the entire section of earth in which the couple was interred.

The block of earth, containing the entwined skeletons, was placed inside a wooden box and sent to an archaeological laboratory at the Musei Civici in Como for meticulous examination.

Eventually, the Valdaro Lovers found their permanent residence within a glass display case at the National Archaeological Museum of Mantua, where they can still be admired to this day.

Similar discovery of another skeleton pair

Two years following the discovery of the Valdaro Lovers, archaeologists working in Modena, Italy made an intriguing find in a cemetery from the late antiquity period. They uncovered a pair of skeletons interred hand-in-hand.

Unlike the Valdaro Lovers, these skeletons were in a deteriorated state, making it challenging to ascertain certain details, such as their biological sex.

While it was not uncommon for archaeologists to come across buried couples or individuals found in a hand-holding position, the “Lovers of Modena” presented a unique twist ten years later: both skeletons were male.

Federico Lugli, a researcher from the University of Bologna who conducted a study in 2019 to determine the sex of the skeleton lovers explained, “At present, no other burials of this type are known.”

He further said, “In the past, several tombs have been found with pairs of individuals placed hand in hand, but in all cases, it was a man and a woman. The link between the two individuals in the burial in Modena, however, remains for the moment a mystery.”

Analysis of new couple

The researchers employed an innovative technique utilizing the analysis of dental enamel to ascertain the sex of the Modena Lovers. They focused on the presence of specific proteins within the enamel, namely AMELX, and AMELY. While both proteins are found in individuals of both sexes, AMELY is exclusive to males.

Although the identification of the Modena Lovers’ sex shed some light on their remains, it also gave rise to further inquiries, particularly regarding the nature of the relationship between these two men.

The circumstances surrounding their burial and the significance of their intimate connection remain enigmatic, leaving researchers eager to unravel the mystery.

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