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Italy’s famed Lovers of Modena were both men, tooth enamel analysis reveals


An analysis of tooth enamel has revealed that the embracing skeletons buried together in Roman times and known as the Lovers of Modena are both men.

The pair, buried between the 4th and 6th centuries A.D. under what is today the city of Modena, Italy, were thought to have been lovers, arranged in an eternal, face-to-face embrace.

But now it seems they were more likely siblings, cousins or soldiers who died together, The Guardian reported.

When the two were initially unearthed in 2009, their sex could not be determined because the technology for this particular type of analysis did not exist, BBC News reported. But a new technique to analyze the proteins in tooth enamel showed them to be both male.

The findings were published Wednesday in the journal Scientific Reports, a journal published by the Nature Group. The researchers were from the University of Bologna and the University of Modena, in Italy.

While other burials contain pairs buried hand in hand, they have all proven to be a man and a woman, the researchers said in a statement translated from Italian.

Burying two handholding men “was certainly not a common practice in the late-ancient era," lead researcher Federico Lugli of the University of Bologna said in the statement.

In fact this is the only male-male burial pairing on record, Lugli noted.

“Many tombs have been found in the past with couples holding hands, but in all cases there was a man and a woman, Lugli said.

He said lovers would be “the most remote” of the potential reasons to put the two together.

“We believe that this choice symbolizes a particular relationship between the two individuals, but we do not know which type,” Lugli said.

“In late antiquity it is unlikely that homosexual love could be recognized so clearly by the people who prepared the burial,” Lugli said. “Since the two individuals have similar ages, they could instead be relatives, such as siblings or cousins. Or they could be dead soldiers together in battle. The necropolis in which they were found could indeed be a war cemetery.”

They were found during construction work a good 1,500 years after being buried, according to The Washington Post. While the skeletons, housed in the Modena Civic Archaeological Museum, have furnished one answer, their discovery has led to many more questions.

“The discovery of two adult males intentionally buried hand-in-hand may have profound implications for our understanding of funerary practices in Late Antique, Italy,” Lugli said. “What might have been the bond between the two individuals in the burial in Modena remains a mystery.”