Archaeologists in northern China have discovered two ancient skeletons wrapped in an embrace. The remains likely belonged to a man and woman who lived during the Northern Wei period (386 to 534 C.E.). Experts say woman may have ‘sacrificed herself’ so they could be buried together. The skeletons were found in June 2020 while workers excavated the Shanxi province. The man was believed to be between 29-35 and had signs of trauma and the woman was between 35-40.
It’s unclear how the male and female ended up in the same grave, though it’s possible the wife sacrificed herself to be buried with her dead husband. While joint male-female burials are not uncommon in China, this entwined burial “with two skeletons locked in an embrace with a bold display of love” is the first of its kind in the country, and may reflect changing attitudes toward love in Chinese society at that time, the researchers wrote in the study.The cemetery contained about 600 burials from the Xianbei, an ancient nomadic group in northern China that assimilated into Han Chinese culture, the grave shapes and ceramic goods found in the cemetery revealed.
Because the couple’s burial was unique, the archaeologists decided not to fully excavate the skeletal remains. Instead, the team left them entwined so that the duo could be put on display in a future museum exhibit.
Whoever buried the couple did so with tender care. The man’s body was curved toward the woman’s, and his left arm lay beneath her body. His right arm embraced her, with his hand resting on her waist. The woman’s body was placed “in a position to be embraced,” the researchers wrote in the study. Her head faced slightly downward, meaning her face would have rested on his shoulder. Her arms hugged his body.
The team had a few ideas about how the couple ended up in the same grave. It’s unlikely the lovers died at the same time from violence, disease or poisoning, as there is no evidence yet of any of these things. While the circumstances that led to these lovebirds’ intimate entombment remains a mystery, their burial is a “unique display of human emotion of love in a burial, offering a rare glimpse towards love, life, death, and afterlife.
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