In 2009, two 1,600-year-old skeletons were unearthed at the ancient Ciro Menotti cemetery in Modena, Italy. Holding hands when buried, they sparked worldwide interest, and the assumption that they were a pair of lovers – the ‘Lovers of Modena’ as they came to be known. New analysis has now established that both were men.
Researchers from the University of Bologna extracted proteins from dental enamels to complete the skeletons’ biological profile, including their sex. Their findings have been published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Various skeleton pairs in the past have been found holding hands in areas such as Greece, Turkey and Siberia, but none of these so far have been established to be of the same sex. The new finding gives new insight about the funerary and burial practices in Late Antique Italy.
The researchers hypothesise that the pair’s burial “represents a voluntary expression of commitment between two individuals, rather than a recurring cult practice of the Late Antiquity”. The injuries on some of the other skeletons found in the cemetery suggest that they could have been war casualties and therefore, could have been “comrades” or “friends”.
Alternatively, they could have been cousins or brothers (given their similar ages) who shared the same grave because of familial bonds.