The “Lovers of Modena”, a pair of skeletons so called because they were buried hand-in-hand, were both men, researchers have found.
The bones, from between the 4th and 6th century AD, were found in a cemetery in 2009 near Modena in northern Italy.
Due to the poor state of the remains, it was not possible to establish the sex of the couple, despite successive attempts using genetic analysis techniques.
Now, a group of researchers from the University of Bologna who developed a new technique using the protein found in tooth enamel have announced that the skeletons belonged to two men. The study, which is believed to have a profound implications for understanding funeral practices, was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The discovery of two individuals buried hand-in-hand, or even embracing, is nothing new. The Lovers of Valdaro, who died nearly 6,000 years ago, were buried in Italy’s northern province of Mantua. There have been other cases in Greece, Turkey, Romania and Siberia. In all of these instances, however, the couples were male and female.
“There are currently no other examples of this type,” Federico Lugli, a researcher at the University of Bologna and the lead author of the Nature study, told Rai News. “Many tombs have been found in the past with couples holding hands, but in all cases there was a man and a woman. What might have been the bond between the two individuals in the burial in Modena remains a mystery.”
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.
• This article was updated on 13 September 2019 to correct the name of the journal the work appeared in: it was Scientific Reports, not Nature.
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