Mysterious ancient skeleton 'lovers' are male, experts reveal

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.

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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" -

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia contributed to this article.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers