The so-called Lovers of Valdaro, also dubbed as the "Valdaro Lovers," are a pair of human skeletons dating back 6,000 years discovered by archaeologists at a Neolithic tomb in S.Giorgio near Mantova, Italy, in 2007. (My post about Mantova here). The two skeletons appear to have died or were interred facing each other with arms around each other, thus reminiscent of a "lovers' embrace". Although it is not the only Neolithic burial to contain more than one person, double burials are rare, and the pose and the positioning of this couple are unique. Scientists believe that the pair is a man and woman no older than 20 years old and approximately 5'2" in height.
After the story made the news with a myriad Stone Age Romeo and Juliet headlines, the site had to be guarded night and day to protect it from the carelessly curious and would-be looters. After all, Mantua (also called Mantova) is the city where Shakespeare's Romeo was exiled and was told that his Juliet was dead. The composer Giuseppe Verdi chose it as the location for his opera Rigoletto, another story of star-crossed love and death.
The landowner discovered the couple while excavating to build a warehouse, which he still needed to do, so archaeologists decided to remove the entire grave. To keep the couple in their entwined position, archaeologists cut away and lifted the entire section of earth in which they were entombed. The whole burial, all six and half feet cubed of it, was then taken intact in a box to a Musei Civici in Como for further analysis.
The male skeleton (on the left side of the embrace) was found with a flint arrowhead near his neck. His lady friend had a long flint blade along her thigh, plus two flint knives under her pelvis. There was initial speculation that the weapons might have been the cause of death. Osteological examination however found no evidence of violent death, no fractures, and no trauma, so the most likely explanation is the flint tools were buried along with the people as grave goods. Scientists say that given their discovery in a necropolis, it’s unlikely that they died by accident while hugging, to keep warm during a freezing night, for instance. They speculate that they were positioned that way after death.
I think the story could be more like Romeo and Juliet that the scientists are likely to admit. One could imagine angry parents forcing them into a grave and making them take each other's lives using the flint blades. Perhaps they used poison--difficult to find traces of after 6000 years--just like Juliet. Perhaps they were the prince and princess of a long forgotten tribe that died while together out in the cold and their people buried them in the positions of lovers. This is really a story to ponder...
The skeletons were displayed briefly in public for the first time in September 2011 at the entrance of Mantua's Archaeological Museum, thanks to the effort of the association "Lovers in Mantua" which is seeking a permanent home for the ancient couple.
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