'Lovers of Modena': Two Ancient Skeletons Buried Holding Hands Were Men

Rodiano Bonacci
Settembre 13, 2019

The study's findings will have important implications for furthering an understanding of funerary practices of the time period in Italy, researchers.

Researchers from the University of Bologna tested the bones of the two skeletons which were discovered in Modena in northern Italy in 2009.

What is known about the skeletons is that they were "two Late Antique individuals whose skeletons were intentionally buried hand-in-hand", according to the study. The pair were dubbed the "Lovers of Modena" by the media, the assumption being that they were a heterosexual couple.

This isn't the first time two skeletons were discovered hand-in-hand or embracing, but all the other documented cases were a man and a woman.

Mass spectrometry looks at various chemicals in a tooth enamel sample to determine the genes of amelogenin proteins; both males and females have amelogenin-X genes but only males have amelogenin-Y.

Poor preservation of the bones made it hard to identify the sex of their owners at the time, but typical burial practices between the 4th and 6th centuries suggest that it was likely a man and woman intentionally buried together in a symbolic gesture of their eternal love.

Now, using new technology, the "lovers" have both been identified as male. "In the past, several graves were found with pairs of individuals laid hand in hand, but in all cases, it was a man and a woman".

The "Lovers of Modena", two people buried centuries ago side by side with their hands intertwined, were both men, researchers have found.

"Although we can not exclude that these two individuals were actually in love, it is unlikely that people who buried them chose to show such bond by positioning their bodies hand in hand", they conclude. Similar discoveries were made in Greece, Turkey and Siberia.

We don't know the circumstances of their relationship or their burial together. In all of these instances, however, the couples were male and female.

Some of the suggestions for the link between the two skeletons are that they are siblings, cousins or soldiers who died together in battle, study author Federico Lugli told Italy's Rai news site (in Italian).

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.

"The two "Lovers" could have been war comrades or friends, who died together during a skirmish and were buried within the same grave".

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