by Leander Milbrecht
The discovery excited archaeologists in 2009 and spread around the world: two skeletons were found in Modena, Italy, buried hand in hand a long time ago. A symbol of eternal love, the media announced at that time. Now it has been determined: the skeletons were both men – and promptly they were deprived of their status as lovers.
For 1500 years they lay in their grave, peacefully united in death. After the accidental discovery during construction work, gender and the relationship of the dead became the focus of public attention. Due to the bad condition of the remains, the sex of the bodies could not be determined at that time. But: The two held hands, so of course they had to be husband and wife. Not only the media, but also the researchers assumed so. The myth “The Lovers of Modena” was born.
Ten years after the discovery, new technology led to the realisation that these were two biological men. This was the result of the analysis of the proteins in the dental enamel, researchers announced in the scientific journal “Scientific Reports”. And they immediately stressed that it was unlikely that they were homosexual lovers.
Posthumous expressions of love are only for heterosexual couples
They might be brothers, cousins or soldiers, the researchers said. A homosexual relationship between the two cannot be ruled out, of course. But can it be ascertained without doubt that the villagers did not know about the two men, accept their relationship or even value it after they died? Why could it not be? Is there enough evidence to declare the villagers who lived over 1000 years ago posthumously homophobic?
There are, of course, asexual relationships that would have provided another explanation if the two had been a man and a woman. Possibly mother and son who were very close? Siblings? But there was no talk of this at the time, because the media presence of the lovers made the skeletons famous in the first place – and thorough research is expensive. There is a suspicion that the status of homosexual lovers may not be quite so lucrative.
In other cases, in which skeletons holding hands were found, it is still assumed they were a man and a woman. It was probably a popular form of burial among heterosexual couples. Does everything fit the image, just not the sex of either partner?
A popular theory in social media is also the inter- or transsexuality of one of the two dead of Modena. This does not make the researchers’ explanation any better.
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