1,500-year-old burial in China keeps lovers locked in eternal embrace

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An aerial view of the lovers’ funeral. Archaeologists found three pottery vessels next to the burial and charcoal and ashes at the man’s feet, “deposited as moisture-resistant material under the coffin during burial,” wrote researchers in the study. (Image credit: Qian Wang)

The skeletal remains of two lovers, buried together more than 1,500 years ago in northern China, were recently discovered locked in an eternal embrace, according to a new study.

It is possible that the woman, who wore a metal ring on her left ring finger, sacrificed herself so that she could be buried with her husband, the researchers said. Although joint male-female burials are not uncommon in China, this intertwined burial “with two skeletons entwined in an embrace with a daring display of love” is the first of its kind in the country and may reflect changing attitudes. towards love in Chinese company around this time, the researchers wrote in the study.

“It’s the first [couple] found in a loving embrace, as such, anywhere and anytime in China, ”study principal investigator Qian Wang, associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M, told Live Science College of Dentistry.

Related: In photos: the ancient tomb of a Chinese couple revealed

Archaeologists discovered the burial in June 2020 during the excavation of a cemetery that had been exposed during construction work in Shanxi province. The cemetery contained around 600 burials of the Xianbei, an ancient nomadic group from northern China who assimilated into Han Chinese culture and dated to the Northern Wei Dynasty (AD 386-534), the forms of graves and ceramic objects found in the cemetery.

Because the couple’s funeral was unique, archaeologists decided not to fully excavate the skeletal remains. Instead, the team left them intertwined so the duo could be on display in a future museum exhibit. Archaeologists found two other couples buried together in the same cemetery; but these couples weren’t hugging so tightly and the women weren’t wearing rings, Wang said.

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An illustration of the two lovers fitted to a photo from the funeral in Shanxi Province, China.

An illustration of the two lovers fitted to a photo from the funeral in Shanxi Province, China. (Image credit: illustration by Anqi Wang; photo by Qian Wang)
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An illustration showing the man and woman in their

An illustration showing the man and woman in their eternal embrace. (Image credit: Anqi Wang)

The partial excavation of the ringed lovers still revealed a lot about them. The man was approximately 5 feet 4 inches (161.5 centimeters) tall and had a few injuries, including a broken arm, part of a missing finger on his right hand, and bone spurs on his right leg. He likely died between the ages of 29 and 35, according to the researchers.

The woman, on the other hand, was in fairly good health when she died. She was approximately 5 feet 2 inches (157.1 cm) tall and had only a few dental problems, including cavities. She probably died between the ages of 35 and 40. It is possible that the woman wore the ring on her ring finger due to the influence “of the customs of the western regions and beyond through the Silk Roads … and the assimilation of the Xianbei people, reflecting the integration of Chinese and Western culture, ”Wang said.

The silver-tone ring found on the woman’s left ring finger. (Image credit: Qian Wang)

Whoever buried the couple did so with tenderness. The man’s body was curved towards that of the woman and his left arm rested under her body. His right arm wrapped around her, his hand resting on her waist. The woman’s body was placed “in a position to be kissed,” the researchers wrote in the study. Her head was turned slightly down, meaning her face would have rested on her shoulder. His arms hugged her body.

This scene is likely to reflect the couple’s dedication to each other in life. “The [burial] The message was clear: husband and wife were lying together, kissing for everlasting love in the afterlife, ”the researchers wrote in the study.

The team had some ideas on how the couple ended up in the same grave. The lovers are unlikely to have died at the same time from violence, disease or poisoning, as there is no evidence of any of these things yet. Perhaps the husband died first and the wife sacrificed herself so they could be buried together, the researchers said. It is also possible that the wife died first and the husband sacrificed himself; however, this is less likely, as the woman appears to have been in better health than her partner.

Related: Photos: Treasures from 800-year-old tombs in China

Die of love?

During the first millennium, when this couple were alive, the ability to freely express and pursue love in China became culturally “important,” the researchers said. There were fictional love stories galore and even historical tales of people committing suicide for love. Essentially chasing love and dying in suicide because love was “accepted, if not promoted,” Wang said.

Although the circumstances which led to the intimate entombment of these lovebirds remain a mystery, their burial is “a unique demonstration of the human emotion of love in a burial, offering a rare glimpse of love, of life, death and the afterlife, ”Wang said.

The study was published online June 4 in the International journal of osteoarchaeology.

Originally posted on Live Science.


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