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Two skeletons intentionally buried hand-in-hand – the so-called ‘Lovers of Modena’ – were always assumed to be male and female. But a new study finds they were both men, raising questions as to their relationship.
Unearthed in Italy in 2009, the two skeletons were found holding hands and both individuals were in a bad state of preservation. Only now, when proteins on their tooth enamel were tested by scientists, has it been revealed that they had both lived in the 4-6th century AD and were both male.
Researchers at the University of Bologna revealed, in a paper published in the journal Nature, that this is the first time two men have been found buried holding hands . And while some news sources are jumping to the conclusion they were gay lovers, many think they were either cousins, brothers, or twins. An alternative theory is that they might have been soldiers who died in battle, and that the burial site might have been a war cemetery.
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Some suggest the skeletons - who were of similar age - could be related, such as brothers or cousins. ( Nature)
Turning To Tooth Enamel
The papers lead author, Federico Lugli, told Italy's Rai News that the ‘Lovers of Modena’ were deliberately buried hand-in-hand and that there were “no other burials of this type”. While past excavations have uncovered several graves containing pairs of people laid to rest holding hands, in all previous cases it was a man and a woman, and the researchers say this new discovery might help experts better understand ancient funeral practices in Italy.
The normal method of determining the sex of ancient human remains is by analyzing their ribs and pelvises, but these two badly preserved skeletons meant that this was impossible. To accurately determine the sexes of the skeletons a 2018 study led by the University of California applied spectrometry and looked at two proteins trapped in their tooth enamel: Amelx, that is present in both sexes and Amely, that’s only found in males. Analyzing the enamel findings of the Lovers of Modena, with 14 other skeletons in a controlled sample, revealed that the pair buried in the necropolis in Italy were both male.
Using a new technique, researchers were able to test the protein on tooth enamel, taken from the skeletons, to reveal the 4-6th century AD skeletons were male. ( Nature)
Openly Gay Lovers In Ancient Italy?
Some suggest the pair of skeletons, who were of similar age, could have been related and were brothers or cousins, but according to the new paper the actual relationship between the pair remains a mystery.
That said, many media outlets are following the all too predictable narrative that the pair were homosexual but The Daily Mail says “it is unlikely” that the nature of their relationship would be recognized so clearly by the people who prepared the burial.
In reality, it is not just “unlikely” that the pair were homosexual, but nearly impossible, if we consider that in 5th century Italy laws forbade gay sex .
In 6th century Italy, the Christian emperor Justinian I (AD 527–565) even regarded homosexuals as causal to environmental problems such as “famines, earthquakes, and pestilences”.
Twined In This Life and In The Afterlife?
Accepting that the pair were “not” gay, how did the team of scientific researchers conclude what the relationship of the pair of hand holding males was? It was concluded that the ‘Lovers of Modena’ burial represents a “voluntary expression of commitment between two individuals” rather than a recurring cult practice of the Late Antiquity ,” and that their position reflects such a relationship.
Searching for answers, we might look towards the three philosophical burial requests of Alexander the Great , that he requested from his loyal generals before dying. His first wish was that only his doctors should carry his coffin and secondly, that the path towards his grave shall be strewn with gold and silver. But his third wish was that “both my hands shall be kept dangling out of my coffin”.
19th century depiction of Alexander's funeral procession based on the description from Diodorus. (Tarawneh / )
Alexander reasoned that by doctors carrying the coffin it would remind them that they are powerless against death and the gold and silver would let people know that “not even a grain of gold” accompanies one when dead and that by “having my hands dangling out of the coffin, I want people to know that I came empty handed into this world and likewise will go empty handed from this world”.
Might this logic have been applied at the burial of the ‘Lovers of Modena’? If so, might their having been buried indicate that they came into this world together and left together, suggesting they were twins?
The skeletons were discovered in Modena, Italy. ( Nature)
'Lovers of Modena' Buried Hand-in-Hand Turn Out to Be Men
They could have been war buddies or cousins, or possibly in a romantic relationship.
The "lovers of Modena" — two 1,600-year-old skeletons found holding hands inside their grave — are both men, new research reveals.
There are few known examples in the ancient world of skeletons buried holding hands and most of those found have been male-female and not same sex.
Unearthed in an ancient cemetery in 2009, the skeletons attracted media attention because of their seemingly romantic death poses, which earned the skeletons the amorous nickname. But archaeologists couldn't determine the sexes of the perished lovers because of the poor condition of the skeletons.
However, a team of scientists has now analyzed the skeletons' teeth enamel and identified both skeletons as male, they reported online Sept. 11 in the journal Scientific Reports.
In the study, the scientists found that both skeletons' teeth had a protein called amelogenin isoform Y, which is found only in the enamel of males, the research team wrote in Scientific Reports.
"We suggest that the 'Lovers of Modena' burial represents a voluntary expression of commitment between two individuals," the researchers wrote, adding that they do not know if their commitment was romantic.
'Lovers of Modena': Two Ancient Skeletons Buried Holding Hands Were Men
Two ancient skeletons buried holding hands were both of men, researchers have revealed.
In 2009, archaeologists discovered the remains in the Italian city of Modena. The pair were dubbed the "Lovers of Modena" by the media, the assumption being that they were a heterosexual couple.
However, a team of Italian researchers has now concluded that the remains represent two males who were deliberately buried holding hands, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
While it is not clear exactly what the relationship was between the two individuals&mdashwhose remains date back to between 1,600 and 1,400 years ago&mdashthe researchers speculate that they could have been relatives, soldiers, or possibly even lovers.
"At present there are no other burials of this type," Federico Lugli, first author of the study from the University of Bologna, said in a statement. "In the past, several graves were found with pairs of individuals laid hand-in-hand, but in all cases it was a man and a woman."
While it cannot be discounted that the two men were indeed lovers, the social attitudes of society at the time&mdashdominated by Christian religious restrictions&mdashmeans it was unlikely that those who buried them would have chosen to highlight this relationship if they were aware of it, the researchers said.
"In late-ancient times it is unlikely that homosexual love could be recognized so clearly by the people who prepared the burial," Lugli said. "Given that the two individuals have similar ages, they could be relatives, for example siblings or cousins. Or soldiers who died together in battle: the necropolis in which they were found could be a war cemetery."
Even though we don't know the nature of the relationship between the pair, the researchers say that the burial is significant for our understanding of the funerary practices in Italy during the period of Late Antiquity.
After the initial discovery, the scientists were not able to determine the sex of the two individuals with absolute certainty using traditional analysis of the bones because the skeletons were in a bad state of preservation. Furthermore, even genetic testing provided inconclusive results.
So for the latest study, the Italian team turned to an innovative technique which involved extracting proteins from the dental enamel of both individuals. This test looks at two kinds of protein called AMELY, which is only found in males and AMELX, which is present in both sexes.
Analysis of these proteins indicated that both individuals were, in fact, male&mdasha conclusion that was confirmed by comparing the results to 14 modern and archaeological control samples.
"The innovative approach of this paper is applying mass spectrometry techniques to ancient samples," Lugli told Newsweek. "It demonstrates that proteins besides DNA became a powerful tool in understanding past human biology."
The researchers say the latest study proves that this technique could be beneficial in a variety of related fields.
"The success of the analysis method we used represents a real revolution for this type of study," Antonino Vazzana, another author of the study from the University of Bologna, said in the statement. "This technique can be decisive for paleoanthropology, bio-archeology and even forensic anthropology in all those cases where the poor state of conservation of the remains or the young age of individuals makes it impossible to determine sex on an osteological level."
This article was updated with additional comments from Federico Lugli.
The 2800 years old kiss
The 2800 years old kiss as if to signify that love is eternal.
These human remains were unearthed in 1972 at the Teppe Hasanlu archaeological site, located in the Solduz Valley in the West Azerbaijan Province of Iran. The site was burned after a military attack. People from both fighting sides were killed in the fire, which apparently spread quite unexpectedly and quickly through the town. The skeletons were found in a plaster grain bin, probably hiding from soldiers, and they almost certainly asphyxiated quickly. The “head wound” is actually from modern-day excavators.
The image depicts two human skeletons, seemingly in an embrace, which earned the photograph its title The 2800 Years Old Kiss. Though many sources identify the skeletons as both being male, according to “The Culture and Social Institutions of Ancient Iran” by Muhammad A. Dandamaev, Vladimir G. Lukonin, Philip L. Kohl published by Cambridge University Press, the skeletons are male and female (female on the left). Archaeology magazine also identifies them as male and female with the additional information of their height (around 5 foot 2 inches each).
The skeletons were found in a bin with no objects. The only feature is a stone slab under the head of the skeleton on the left-hand side. Some sources claim that skeletons, appearing to kiss each other, were buried 6,000 years ago, but that’s not true.
The archaeologist who studied the skeletons confirms they were there since 2,800 years ago. The University of Pennsylvania has determined that the couple died together around 800 BC. The skeletons do appear like they are kissing each other before they died – as if to signify that love is eternal.
The original source of this image is the Penn Museum and officially named “The Lovers”. Its description in the museum label reads:
“The Lovers” from 1972 season at Hasanlu.
Hasanlu is an archaeological excavation site in Iran, Western Azerbaijan, Solduz Valley. Theses skeletons were found in a bin with no objects. The only feature is a stone slab under the head of the skeleton on the left hand side (SK335).
Teppe Hasanlu, located in northwest Iran is a very famous archaeological site of an ancient city and was excavated in ten seasons between 1956 and 1974 by a team from the University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, and the Metropolitan Museum of New York. Many valuable artifacts were unearthed, including this eternal couple.
Mysterious ancient skeleton 'lovers' are male, experts reveal
Mysterious ancient skeleton 'lovers' found in Italy turn out to be male. Researchers are now speculating if the pair are related.
Scientists are shedding new light on a mysterious skeleton couple buried holding hands.
Dubbed “the lovers of Modena,” the skeletons were discovered in the northern Italian city of Modena in 2009 and were assumed to be male and female. The skeletons were found in a necropolis that dates back to between the 4th and 6th centuries A.D.
New analysis of the remains, however, reveals that both skeletons are male. The University of Bologna, which led in the research, explains that the poor preservation of the bones made it impossible to confirm the gender of the skeletons.
Researchers worked with experts from the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia to study the skeletons’ tooth enamel and reveal their gender. Scientists found a protein that is present only in the tooth enamel of males.
The "lovers of Modena" - (Musei Civici di Modena)
The research is published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The skeletons are in the collection of the Modena Civic Archaeological Museum. In a statement, the museum notes that, while other skeletons have been found buried hand in hand in other locations, they have been male and female.
The nature of the relationship between the two men is unclear. “We believe that this choice symbolizes a particular relationship between the two individuals, but we do not know which type,” said Federico Luigi, a researcher at the University of Bologna, who led the study, in a statement translated from Italian. “In late antiquity it is unlikely that homosexual love could be recognized so clearly by the people who prepared the burial.”
Luigi notes that, given the similar ages of the men when they died, they may be relatives, such as siblings or cousins. They could also be soldiers that died in battle. “The necropolis in which they were found could indeed be a war cemetery,” said Luigi.
The Modena Civic Archaeological Museum also notes that the skeletons may be brothers in arms, as burials of two male warriors were sometimes buried together in the late ancient period.
Genetic research will be undertaken to find out whether the two men are related, the museum said.
Italy continues to reveal new details of its rich ancient history. The famous Pompeii archaeological site, in particular, offers remarkable glimpses into the Roman era.
Last year, an excavation at the site unearthed the skeleton of a man who was crushed by a large block of stone while attempting to flee the eruption in 79 A.D.
The ancient city was devastated following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Pompeii was quickly buried by volcanic ash, killing about 2,000 of the city’s residents, according to History.com.
Earlier this year archaeologists also uncovered an ancient fast-food joint at Pompeii.
Graves in other parts of Europe have also been revealing their secrets. An incredible grave in Sweden containing the skeleton of a Viking warrior, long thought to be male, for example, was recently confirmed as female. Stunning artifacts found in the grave indicated that it belonged to a high-status Viking warrior, who, for over a century, was assumed to be male.
The Wild West Was Actually Much Gayer Than You Think
When most people think of the Wild West era of 1865 to 1895, they imagine ultra-masculine cowboys who drank whiskey, roped steers, shot revolvers and frequented brothels. Just look at HBO’s Westworld — it’s filled with blood-thirsty bandits but nary a gay cowboy. But no matter your preconceptions, queer historian Michael Lyons says the 19th century American frontier was much gayer than most people think.
Lyons followed the exploits of “Scottish-born adventurer and noted homosexual” William Drummond Stewart, a military nobleman known for his gay adventures in the American West. Stewart’s travels and other historical facts make for some eye-opening revelations about the queer frontier.
Here are 5 things you might not have known about the Wild West:
1. Male travel companions
After coming to America in 1832, Stewart joined a “rendezvous” of hunters and trappers in Wyoming and met a French Canadian-Cree hunter named Antoine Clement who became his lover for nearly a decade. As an experienced frontiersman, Clement undoubtedly showed Stewart the ropes of frontier life.
Later on, when the two returned to Scotland after the death of Stewart’s older brother, Stewart presented Clement as his valet (a male attendant responsible for his clothes and appearance) and footman (a uniformed servant who met guests and waited on him at the tables).
Clement reportedly didn’t like Scotland (probably because his boyfriend kept passing him off as the help) and so he and Stewart began traveling the world together. But even today closeted conservatives still pass off their male lovers as “luggage handlers” and “travel companions.”
2. “Bachelor weddings”
Lyons points out that California’s population before the 1849 Gold Rush was 90% male, and most of the men did male-dominated jobs that excluded women like “mining, cattle herding, ranching, hunting and trapping or the military.”
As a result, groups of men would form homes together and some men would do housework previously left to women like cooking, cleaning and laundry. Sometimes these men would also share beds and form partnerships known as “bachelor marriages.”
Historians have noted that these small, all-male families were made up of Chinese, African and Latino settlers, something that both exacerbated racial tensions, especially when food tastes and customs came into conflict, and transcended racial conflicts altogether.
Old-timey photos of same-sex cowboy couples also show the commonality of male affection during the 19th century, but not all of the men pictured in such photos were lovers. Many were just friends or relatives who felt comfortable expressing physical intimacy back then.
3. Same-sex dances
While terms like “homosexual” and “heterosexual” weren’t really in use at the time, men still expressed some of their same-sex affection on the dance floor.
An article entitled “Paradise of Bachelors” says the lack of women compelled men to hold dances where “half of the men danced the part of women, wearing patches over the crotches of their pants to signal their ‘feminine’ role.”
Some modern-day dance events at gay country-western bars, Latino bars, Renaissance fairs and contra dance meet-ups have leading partners wear something signifying their traditionally “male” role.
4. Native American “berdaches”
You’ve probably heard of Native American two-spirits — tribal religious leaders and teachers believed to have the spirit of a man and the spirit of a woman within them. Two-spirits lived across America at the time, but they weren’t seen as trans women and men, really. Rather, they fell somewhere along the gender spectrum.
While Christian-influenced Latin-American and European settlers condemned two-spirits as “sodomites” (and some of them did have same-sex or bi-fluid relationships), Native Americans focused instead on two-spirits’ spiritual gifts, allowing them to enter spaces meant exclusively for men or women. Female two-spirits also existed and would sometimes enter unions with other women in the tribe.
History also points out the use of the Wild West word “berdache,” a Persian-derived term commonly applied to two-spirits. The word isn’t a synonym, though, because of its more overt sexual overtones it is similar to the words “lover” or “boyfriend.” Some people consider the word offensive now because of its derogatory use by some frontiersmen.
5. Rennaisance-themed orgies
Most surprisingly, when Stewart returned to America in 1843, he planned a large “frontiersman rendezvous” and traveled with “a large entourage” to Fremont lake for the event. Stewart brought along “a large array of velvet and silk Renaissance costumes for his all-male guests to wear during the festivities.”
A historian called the event “a rollicking medieval market faire” where “naked men crawled out from beneath striped canvas” of the tents to go loudly skinny dipping in the nearby lake. Most were in their teens and 20s.
A scandal during the “Renaissance pleasure trip” reportedly caused Stewart to return immediately to Scotland and never return to America again.
Famous embracing pair at Pompeii ‘could have been gay lovers’
The two figures embraced for one last time as molten rock and ash rained down, holding each other as they perished – together.
Nearly 2,000 years after the pair died in each other’s arms as Mount Vesuvius erupted and wiped out the Roman city of Pompeii, it has been discovered they were both men.
And the two victims, previously thought to be women and dubbed ‘The Two Maidens,’ could have been romantically – as well as physically – entangled, scientists say.
The bodies themselves seem to give credence to this view, with one of the men frozen in time as he rests his head on the other’s chest, seeking comfort as the end neared.
And tests on their teeth and bones have revealed that the victims, who were 18 and 20 years old when they were killed, were not related.
“Pompeii never ceases to amaze,” Massimo Osanna, director-general of the world-famous archaeological site, told the Telegraph.
“We always imagined that it was an embrace between women. But a CAT scan and DNA have revealed that they are men.
“You can’t say for sure that the two were lovers. But considering their position, you can make that hypothesis. It is difficult to say with certainty.”
Professor Stefano Vanacore, head of the Pompeii research team, said it would of course never be known for sure what the relationship was between the two men.
“When this discovery was made, that they were not two young girls,” he said, “some scholars suggested there could have been an emotional connection between the pair.
“But we are talking about hypotheses that can never be verified.
What is certain is that the two parties were not relatives, neither brothers, nor a father and son.”
The discovery came after two years of archaeological restorers working to investigate and preserve 86 bodies which are still intact two millennia after the catastrophic two-day eruption.
In the 19th century, these bodies were injected with plaster in a ground-breaking procedure which stopped them from decomposing.
The two men were found in the House of the Cryptoporticus during excavations at the World Heritage site in the early 20th century.
Pompeii was seemingly home to an open atmosphere surrounding sexuality and sex, with multiple depictions of penises and sexual acts in statues and wall paintings.
That part of the history has been repeatedly covered up by authorities through the centuries, though.
The Secret Museum in Naples, which holds much of the more risque artwork from Pompeii, was only reopened to the public in 2000.
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Progress implementing LGBT rights in Italy has been slowly gaining ground.
Predictably, there has been a backlash from the Catholic Church, which condemned the way the law was passed, calling it “creeping fascism.”
The Church did, however, denounce comments from a Friar that the earthquakes in Italy last year – which killed more than 300 people – were a divine punishment for the country allowing same-sex unions.
And a landmark court ruling earlier this year recognised a gay couple as the legal parents of their children born to a surrogate.
The Court of Appeal in the city of Trento ruled that both men could be named as fathers to the children.
"One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" could have turned out dramatically different had it not been for astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s ingenuity in averting disaster with a simple felt-tip pen. Following the Apollo 11 historic July 20, 1969, moonwalk, Aldrin and Neil . read more
George Washington is widely known as the first U.S. president and Revolutionary War hero who supposedly cut down a cherry tree and had wooden teeth. But few may know the founding father was also a dog lover who even bred his own unique breed. Andrew Hager, historian-in-residence . read more
David Bowie was openly bisexual for years, but Mick Jagger was known only as a womanizer. That allegedly changed when The Rolling Stones frontman met the "Ziggy Stardust" singer in 1973. The pair became inseparable as pals, but it turns out their relationship may have been a little deeper than that. Bowie's then-wife, actress Angie Barnett, claims she found the rock legends in bed together in her home.
A backup singer who lived with the Bowies, Ava Cherry, corroborated the story. "Mick and David were really sexually obsessed with each other," she said in the book Mick: The Wild Life and Mad Genius of Jagger (via the New York Daily News). "Even though I was in bed with them many times, I ended up just watching them have sex." She added that they "practically lived together" for months. Here's hoping they got some satisfaction out of the arrangement (Sorry, we couldn't resist.)