Holding hands into eternity
There is a recent news story, which has been reported widely, about an Iowa couple, married for 72 years and dying within an hour of one another after a car accident (News story link). 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.
In Italy, a similar story was reported, except that this one takes place in the 5th-6th centuries AD. Archaeologists found a pair of skeletons outside ancient Mutina (modern Modena) that appear to have been looking at one another and holding hands. (News story link).
The skeletons are not in particularly well preserved, but 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 post-mortem – which seems plausible considering the twisted neck vertebrae in the photograph.
Also recovered from the excavation of the burial was a bronze ring, which, although hard to tell precisely within the jumble of poorly preserved bones, seems to be on the woman’s right hand.
Wedding rings have a long history in the Old World (for women only of course- men had no real need of rings since they weren’t property), so it is plausible that this was a married couple and with the number of plagues that ravaged Europe at this period, it’s also entirely possible the couple died close to the same time. However, multiple burials are not unheard of in ancient Italy, so there could be another explanation.
The most interesting aspect to be taken from both the ‘Lovers of Modena’ from the 5th-6th centuries AD and the ‘Lovers of Mantua’ ‘ dating to 5,000-6,000 BC, is that whoever buried them felt the need to communicate their relationship in death.
We do not bury ourselves, so we can only speculate as to who buried both of these couples (their children? their parents? the community?) and why they buried them in this rather anomalous way.
To read a further view on this subject: Katy Meyers of Bones Don’t Lie has a fascinating post entitled Can you excavate love?