“Till death do us part” is a figure of speech for some of history’s most dedicated lovers. From the courtyards of Romania to the Neolithic proto-city of Çatalhöyük, Turkey, archaeologists from across the globe have unearthed ancient couples buried together in an eternal embrace.
The list of some of the most devoted burials that experts have uncovered in recent years is sure to rock your view of romance, representing commitments so bold they'd make Romeo and Juliet blush.
The Two Male ‘Lovers Of Modena’ Found Buried Holding Hands
Nicknamed the “Lovers of Modena”, this Italian duo was first discovered in 2009 when archaeologists were excavating the City of Modena. The two were buried hand-in-hand and shared the same grave for the last 700 years, but poor preservation of the bones made it difficult to determine much more about the couple – including their sex.
Typical burial practices in the fourth and sixth centuries contained a man and a woman as a gesture of love. It was long believed these two followed that same norm until an analysis published in Scientific Reports in 2019 found the two to be biological males. Using mass spectrology, archaeologists analyzed proteins in their tooth enamel and compared it to 14 other skeletons found buried near the two, concluding that they were both males. This sort of burial practice had never been observed before and, given the heavy Christian influence at the time, likely would not have been used to celebrate a homosexual couple.
“At present, no other burials of this type are known,” said study author Federico Lugli in a statement at the time. “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. What was the link between the two individuals of the Modena burial, instead, remains a mystery at the moment.”
Archaeologists suggest they were family members or soldiers who died together in but cannot rule out they were a romantic couple.
The Intertwined Italian Lovers of Valdaro
Between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, the Italian lovers of Valdaro were buried in their Neolithic tomb, huddled face-to-face with their arms and legs intertwined in an eternal embrace.
Double burials during this time are rare and the position is even rarer. Archaeological analysis confirmed the man and woman were around 5 feet 2 inches tall and no older than 20 at the time of their death, according to Archaeology, a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America. Determining more information would require taking each individual bone out of its burial alignment for further analysis – something excavators refused to do at the time of the discovery.
“We want to keep them just as they have been all this time – together,” archaeologist Elena Menotti, who announced the discovery in 2007, told Reuters. Instead, they removed the entire block of earth they were resting in and sent it to an archaeological laboratory.
Further investigation revealed no indications of violent death, leading some to believe the couple died holding each other on a freezing night. Experts say it is more likely the two were laid out in the position after death, reported Time.
Sudden death? Ritual sacrifice? Their death remains a mystery that may never be solved.
The Young Greek “Fox Hole” Lovers Spooning For Eternity
A 20-something-year-old man and woman were discovered in an eternal spooning position by archaeologist Anastasia Papthanassiou in 2013. DNA testing confirmed the two sexes and further analyses indicated they were buried near a prehistoric cave 5,800 years ago. Alepotrypa Cave – or “foxhole” – was nicknamed the “Neolithic Pompeii” and represents one of the largest Neolithic burials in Europe, with bones from at least 170 individuals, reports National Geographic.
"They're totally spooning," Bill Parkinson, an archaeologist who worked on the site, told the publication. "The boy is the big spoon, and the girl is the little spoon: Their arms are draped over each other, their legs are intertwined. It's unmistakable."
It is unclear how they died or whether they were related, however. Experts say it is likely that they died in this posture or were placed there shortly after their death. Like many ancient burials, the cause of their death is still unknown.
Siberian Lovers Locked Arm-in-Arm For Millennia
In the Siberian village of Staryi Tartas, archaeologists discovered around 600 tombs containing the bones of couples embraced in “post-mortal hugs with bone hands clasped together,” with some buried alongside children, reported the Siberian Times in 2013. It is unclear why such an extensive network of dual burials would have occurred 3,500 years ago, but experts believe it may have represented “second birth”, much like reincarnation.
There are a number of working theories about the exact logistics behind these burials. Some believe that after a man died, his wife was killed and buried with him. Others suggest that the couples may have been buried post-mortem as if they were partaking in a sexual act to bring new life into the world. There is further speculation that the burials served some sort of ritualistic purpose.
“We can fantasize a lot about all this. We can allege that husband died and the wife was killed to be interred with him as we see in some Scythian burials, or maybe the grave stood open for some time and they buried the other person or persons later, or maybe it was really simultaneous death,” then-professor Vyacheslav Molodin, director of research of the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography in the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told the publication at the time.