October 21, 2011

Holding Hands into Eternity

This week, a news story was going around about an Iowa couple.  Married 72 years, they got into a car accident and died within an hour of one another.  They arrived at the hospital holding hands and continued to do so through their deaths.  They were placed side-by-side in a casket, still holding hands, and were even cremated together.

Another story out of Italy this week is very similar, except that it takes place in the 5th-6th centuries.  Archaeologists found a pair of skeletons outside ancient Mutina (modern Modena) that appear to have been looking at one another and holding hands.  The skeletons are not in particularly good shape, but they do appear to be those of a man (on the left) and a woman (on the right).  Donato Labate, the director of the archaeological excavation, suggests that the two had been looking at one another but that the man's head moved postmortem - which seems plausible considering the twisted neck vertebrae in the photograph.

Lovers of Modena (5th-6th c AD)
credit: Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici
dell'Emilia-Romagna, via Discovery News
Also found was a bronze ring - hard to tell exactly in the jumble of poorly preserved bones, but it seems to be on the woman's right hand.  Wedding rings have a long history in the Old World (well, for women - men don't need rings since they weren't property), so it's entirely possible that this was a married couple.  With the number of plagues that ravaged Europe, it's also entirely possible the couple died close to the same time.  Then again, multiple burials are not unheard of in ancient Italy, so there could be another explanation.

The most interesting thing about the Lovers of Modena (5th-6th centuries AD) and the Lovers of Mantua (the so-called Romeo and Juliet, dating to 5,000-6,000 BC) is that whoever buried them felt the need to communicate their relationship in death.  We don't bury ourselves, of course, but we can only speculate as to who buried these couples (their kids? their parents? the community?) and why they buried them in a rather anomalous way.

There's some very interesting bioarchaeology coming out of Modena, since a couple weeks ago archaeologists found three skeletons with cutmarks on them inhumed within a cremation cemetery.  Hope we hear more about both of these finds soon!

1 comments:

Anonymous said...

You need to read the book "The Prehistory of Sex" by Tim Taylor, to see that the way the community buries the dead sometimes communicates quite different messages than the ones we think they do. I'm fed up with all these fluffy Italian stories about skeletons "holding hands".

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