Feb 7, 2007
The prehistoric pair are believed to have been a man and a woman and are thought to have died young.
ROME, Italy (AP) -- It could be humanity's oldest story of doomed love.
Archaeologists have unearthed two skeletons from the Neolithic period locked in a tender embrace and buried outside Mantua. The site is just 25 miles south of Verona, the romantic city where Shakespeare set the star-crossed tale of "Romeo and Juliet."
Buried between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, the prehistoric pair are believed to have been a man and a woman and are thought to have died young, as their teeth were found intact, said Elena Menotti, the archaeologist who led the dig.
"As far as we know, it's unique," Menotti told The Associated Press by telephone from Milan. "Double burials from the Neolithic are unheard of, and these are even hugging."
The burial site was located Monday during construction work for a factory building in the outskirts of Mantua. Alongside the couple, archaeologists found flint tools, including arrowheads and a knife, Menotti said.
Experts will now study the artifacts and the skeletons to determine the burial site's age and how old the two were when they died, she said.
Although the Mantua pair strike a rare and touching pose, archaeologists have found prehistoric burials in which the dead hold hands or have other contact, said Luca Bondioli, an anthropologist at Rome's National Prehistoric and Ethnographic Museum.
The find has "more of an emotional than a scientific value." But it does highlight how the relationship people have with each other and with death has not changed much from the period in which humanity first settled in villages, learning to farm the land and tame animals, he said.
"The Neolithic is a very formative period for our society," he said. "It was when the roots of our religious sentiment were formed."
The two bodies, which cuddle closely while facing each other on their sides, were probably buried at the same time, an indication of a possible sudden and tragic death, Bondioli said.
"It's rare for two young people to die at the same time, and that makes us want to know why and who they were, but it will be very difficult to find out."
He said DNA testing could determine whether the two were related, "but that still leaves other hypotheses; the Romeo and Juliet possibility is just one of many."