Neolithic Romeo and Juliet? The Star-Crossed Lovers of Valdaro
The “Lovers of Valdaro” are a pair of human skeletons that were discovered in 2007 by a team of archaeologists at a Neolithic tomb in Italy. The two skeletons appear to have died while they were gazing into one another’s eyes and hugging each other, thus reminiscent of a “lovers’ embrace.”
Their Embrace Amazingly Goes Back 6,000 Years
For 6,000 years, two young lovers had been locked in an eternal embrace, hidden from the eyes of the world. Despite their embrace lasting six millennia, the Lovers of Valdaro only became known ten years ago, when their tomb was discovered near Mantua, in the northern region of Lombardy.
Digging in the village of Valdaro, a team of archaeologists led by Elena Maria Menotti found a double burial: a young man and woman considered to be about 20 years of age, huddled close together, face to face, their arms and legs entwined, as if they were embracing.
The skeletons of the Lovers of Valdaro. (Dagmar Hollmann/CC BY SA 4.0)
What’s even more impressive, double burials from the Neolithic period are very uncommon, and the position of the couple is certainly unique. Furthermore, it is the only example of a double burial in Northern Italy found to date. When the “lovers” were discovered, photos of their embrace were published on media worldwide causing great excitement, especially since the discovery took place near Valentine’s Day.
How Did the Young Couple Die?
Historians have not been able to determine how the two died, but, in popular imagination, the couple have come to symbolize Romeo and Juliet of a prehistoric age, star-crossed lovers who took their own lives.
This theory is helped along by the fact that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was set in nearby Verona, that Romeo was exiled to Mantua, where he was told that Juliet was dead, and that Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Rigoletto, another story of star-crossed love and death, was set in Mantua too.
‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Henri-Pierre Picou. (Public Domain)
But subsequent research showed that the skeletons do not have any signs of creating their own violent deaths. Elena Maria Menotti, head of the excavation, stated at the time,
“We have never found a man and a woman embraced before and this is a unique find. We have found plenty of women embracing children but never a couple. Much less a couple hugging΄and they really are hugging. It’s possible that the man died first and then the woman was killed in sacrifice to accompany his soul. From an initial examination they appear young as their teeth are not worn down but we have sent the remains to a laboratory to establish their age at the time of death. They are face to face and their arms and legs are entwined and they are really hugging.”
The Archaeological Value of this Find is Truly Immeasurable
Romantic interpretations aside, their discovery remains one of the most remarkable finds in Neolithic archaeology and an excited Menotti made sure to point that out too,
“I am so thrilled at this find. I have been involved in lots of digs all over Italy but nothing has excited me as much as this. I’ve been doing this job for 25 years. I’ve done digs at Pompeii, all the famous sites. But I’ve never been so moved because this is the discovery of something special.”
Close-up of the young lovers’ skulls, which seem to still gaze at one another. (Dagmar Hollmann/CC BY SA 4.0)
Although it might not be the only Neolithic burial to include more than one person, double burials in that period are extremely rare, while the pose and the positioning of the couple make the find even more unique. After an initial examination of the bones, experts determined that the man and woman were not only young, but also short (especially the male) around 5’2” (158 cm) tall each.
The examination also revealed that the man has an arrow in his spinal column while the woman has an arrow head in her side. Additionally, researchers speculate that 5000 years ago the area around Mantua was marshland and crisscrossed by rivers, so the environment was ideal and helped to preserve the skeletons in their near-perfect state.
The Mystery Might Never be Solved but the Couple Found a New Home
The mystery of their death might never be solved, but many people from around the world are willing to travel to Italy to see the most ancient romantic couple.
The skeletons were displayed briefly in public for the first time in September 2011 at the entrance of Mantua’s Archaeological Museum. But the association “Lovers in Mantua” campaigned intensely for a long time for their right to have a room of their own, and now visitors can now see the Lovers of Valdaro at the Archaeological Museum of Mantua, where they are on permanent display inside a shatterproof glass case.