Neolithic lovers seek new home

In February of 2007, construction workers building a warehouse in Valdaro, farm country on the outskirts of Mantua discovered a Stone Age burial site. Archaeologists excavated further and discovered a unique Neolithic double burial, a young man and woman who had died 6000 years ago and been locked in an eternal embrace ever since. The Mantua region during the Stone Age was marshland, an excellent environment for preserving skeletons, and in fact dozens of Neolithic burial sites have been found in the area. Most of them are individual burials, some mass burials, some double burials of mother and child, the occasional head buried under a dwelling, but a man and woman embracing, arms and legs interlocked, had never been found before.

The male skeleton (on the left in the picture) was found with a flint arrowhead near his neck. His lady friend had a long flint blade along her thigh, plus two flint knives under her pelvis. There was initial speculation that the weapons might have been the cause of death, like perhaps the lovers had been found mid-embrace by a jealous husband who killed them both on the spot à la Paolo and Francesca. Osteological examination found no evidence of violent death, however, no fractures, no microtrauma, so the most likely explanation is the flint tools were buried along with the people as grave goods.

After the story made the news with a myriad Stone Age Romeo and Juliet headlines, the site had to be guarded night and day to protect it from the carelessly curious and would-be looters. Plus, the landowner still wanted to build his warehouse, so archaeologists decided to remove the entire grave. To keep the couple in their entwined position, archaeologists cut away and lifted the entire section of earth in which they were entombed. The whole burial, all six and half feet cubed of it, was then taken in a box to a laboratory for further analysis.

Researchers were able to pin down their ages to between 18 and 20. Given their discovery in a necropolis, it’s unlikely that they died by accident while hugging, to keep warm during a freezing night, for instance. They were found embracing because they were positioned that way after death.

Four years later and the “Lovers of Valdaro” are finally out of the lab and on display at the Mantua Archeological Museum. It’s a short exhibit, only lasting through Sunday, arranged by an organization that is trying to raise money to make it a permanent display.

The association “Lovers in Mantua” is campaigning for their right to have a room of their own. According to [Professor Silvia] Bagnoli, 250,000 euros will be enough for an exhibition center, and another 200,000 euros could pay for a multimedia space to tell the world the mysterious story of these prehistoric lovers.