Amplexus

For all around these days
Can’t let my embrace go free
Into my arms and veins
It’s hard for time to see ~Feel.Love.Thinking.Of Faunts

In 2007, a pair of human skeletons were found in Valdaro, near the Italian city of Mantua. The skeletons are a man and a woman, between 18 and 20 years old, dating back to the Neolithic Period (5000-4000 BCE). What makes this double burial unique is that the two skeletons are positioned face to face, curled together with their limbs entwined, as if in an embrace.

Galleons, meet the Lovers of Valdaro:

While a Neolithic double burial isn’t unheard of, the positioning of these two is certainly unique. But little is known about the purported “lovers.” Even now, four years later, we’re no closer to unraveling the mystery of just who these two were.

The media latched onto the discovery of the Lovers, painting them with all the romantic tragedy of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (which is such a shit play- after knowing each other for a goddamn day, two dumbshit teenagers get married, bang, and then end up killing themselves because they are angsty, stupid prats). The sight of these 6000-year-old skeletons, entwined with one another, embracing through the ages… it stirred something in people. In the Lovers, people found that sweet, enduring, perfectly pure note of love that their little hearts longed for. Here it was. Love. For all the world to see.

“I’ve never been so moved,” said archaeologist Elena Maria Menotti, who led the excavation, “because this is the discovery of something special.”

I’m not going to lie- the squishy, girly portion of my heart is warmed by the image of the Lovers.

However, the bigger part of me is drawn to the Lovers for another reason. Four years. DNA testing. A 3-D laser scan. X rays. And what do we know about them? Hardly anything more than we did when we first found them. The Lovers don’t seem to have met a violent end, leading some to speculate that they really were a pair of young lovers, who died holding each other on a freezing night. And if you really need to believe in that almost poetic little love story, then go ahead. Because there’s no evidence that can actually dispute that.

And while it’s possible the Lovers really were lovers who died in one another’s arms, it’s more likely that they were positioned that way, buried together in a prehistoric cemetery. According to Menotti, “It’s possible that the man died first and then the woman was killed in sacrifice to accompany his soul.”

Another interesting thing about the burial is that it’s… wrong. Burials in the Neolithic Period were always East-West, possibly following the path of the sun across the sky. But the Lovers were buried the wrong way.

“They were buried North-South, and we don’t know why,” said archaeologist Daniela Castagna.

I like that we’ll probably never know the story behind the Lovers. That we have these tantalizing little snippets that will never get pieced into a whole picture. There’s more truth in life and love in the mystery than in the tidy little love story of the romantics. Life… love… they are haphazard things, pieced together from moments. There’s not necessarily narrative- they simply are.

Just like the Lovers.

And I like that they were removed from the earth together, completely intact (typically, skeletons are removed from excavation sites one bone at a time). Because of this, they can be displayed together just as they were found, wrapped around each other. And they were- two months ago, they were displayed in public for the first time at Mantua’s Archaeological Museum, and a local group is working to raise the money to give the Lovers a permanent exhibition space.

It would be nice to have these two on display for people to see. Whether you love the shroud of mystery or the saccharine, Shakespearean fantasy, we all need a little wonder in our lives. And if these Lovers can bring that to people, then they should be displayed for the public to admire, to stand before in awe.

The Lovers inspire. They inspire hope, joy, tenderness, wonder, curiosity… and, apparently, at least one pretty rockin’ tattoo:

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