Roman-era ‘lovers of Modena’, buried hand-in-hand, were men


Share post:

A pair of fifth-century skeletons buried hand-in-hand and known since their discovery in 2009 as the “lovers of Modena” are both men, researchers reported this week.

Roman-era 'lovers of Modena', buried hand-in-hand, were men
Researchers have found that a couple of skeletons known as the Lovers of Modena,
because they are holding hands, were both men
[Credit: ArcheoModena]

Unable to verify their sex, scientists had simply assumed the degraded skeletons belong to a man and a woman, possibly lovers who resided in the north Italian town famous for its vinegar.

But a new technique for analysing protein in tooth enamel has left no doubt that this was a same-sex burial. Exactly why the two men were carefully laid to rest with their hands interlocked remains a mystery.

Several of 11 other skeletons unearthed at the same burial site showed signs of violent injury consistent with warfare, according to the study, published in Scientific Reports.

“The two ‘lovers’ could have been war comrades or friends who died together during a skirmish and were thus buried in the same grave,” University of Bologna professor Frederico Lugli and colleagues speculated.

Roman-era 'lovers of Modena', buried hand-in-hand, were men
Ion chromatograms representing selected peptides of the ‘Lovers’ enamel proteome20. Chromatograms search
was performed using Xcalibur software (Thermo Scientific) with a mass tolerance of 5 ppm. Peptide sequences,
 protein names and retention times are reported in the graphs. The presence of peptide SM(ox)IRPPY
(AMELY; [M + 2 H]+2 440.2233 m/z) in both the specimens suggests that the two individuals
were males [Credit: Lugli et al. 2019]

“Alternatively, the two individuals were relatives — possibly cousins or brothers given their similar ages — sharing the same grave due to their family bond.”

It seems unlikely, they continued, that they were buried as a same-sex couple.

“Although we cannot exclude that these two individuals were actually in love, it is unlikely that people who buried them decided to show such a bond by positioning their bodies hand-in-hand,” the researchers concluded.

There are at least half-a-dozen other examples of adults buried with hands intertwined reaching back to Neolithic times 8,000 years ago, but all are thought to be man-and-woman couples.

“The discovery of two adult males intentionally buried hand-in-hand may have profound implications for our understanding of funerary practices in Late Antiquity Italy,” the researchers said.

The technique used to distinguish sex is based on a protein, called amelogenin, that is expressed differently in the tooth enamel of men and women.

Source: AFP [September 13, 2019]



Related articles

Gold diadem found in Roman-era sarcophagus in Izmir

A rescue excavation carried out on a construction site in the Alsancak district of the Turkish province of...

Ancient food webs can chart sustainable futures

At first glance, it might seem that archaeology and ecology don't have much in common. One unearths the...

Archaeologists make new discoveries at site in Peru

A complex of ancient Inca platforms, a storeroom and a ceremonial court were unearthed while maintenance and preservation...

Gambling pieces, moccasins shed light on life in Utah cave

Everyday items recovered from Utah caves are providing insight into how native peoples lived more than a thousand...

Medieval Christian crypt found in Sudan

A 900-year-old medieval crypt, containing seven naturally mummified bodies and walls covered with inscriptions, has been excavated in...

Graeco-Roman burials found at Egypt’s Taposiris Magna

The Egyptian-Dominican mission of the University of Santo Domingo headed by Dr. Kathleen Martinez, working at the Taposiris...

Travelling back in time through smart archaeology

The British explorer George Dennis once wrote, "Vulci is a city whose very name … was scarcely remembered,...

Turkey to open ‘world’s largest intact mosaic’ this year

An archaeological museum in Turkey’s southeastern province of Hatay expects to open to the public this year a...