In the village of Staryi Tartas in the Novosibirsk region of Siberia, archaeologists uncovered a mystery of staggering proportions. They unearthed around 600 Bronze Age tombs and discovered dozens of skeleton couples wrapped in each other’s arms. They date between the 17th and 14th centuries BC.
The archaeologists report that the couples were carefully buried, face to face, some with their hands entwined. (See photo to the left.) Little treasures and objects were added to their graves including personal items (gaming pieces and a mould to cast jewelry), ceramic pottery, bronze decorations, and some armaments.
Surprisingly, these graves did not belong to the native Siberians of the era. Archaeologists report they belong to the Andronovo culture who more closely resembled Caucasians.
Some scientists suggest the couples were placed in their loving embrace to highlight the importance of the family bond. However, that doesn’t explain how both husband and wife managed to die at the same time.
A less enchanting theory is put forth by Professor Lev Klein of St. Petersburg State University. He says, “Behind Andronovo burials lay extraordinary stories about travels and discoveries, about human destinies and the destinies of whole civilizations. According to their beliefs, the man during his lifetime donated his body as a sacrifice to all the gods and in order to complete the ‘deeksha’, which means ‘consecration for a religious ceremony’, one made a ritual sexual act of conceiving. In other words, in death a man should perform a sexual act to impregnate a woman.” Klein believes either the man’s wife or another woman was sacrificed when he died.
Wow. Love hurts!! This also reminds me of an ancient Viking custom when a man in authority died, they would sacrifice a female slave to be killed and cremated with him. I think it was called the Angel of Death ceremony or something like that. Horrible.
Archaeology and Ethnography expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vyacheslav Molodin said, “We can fantasize a lot about all this. We can allege that husband died and the wife was killed to be interred with him as we see in some Scythian burials, or maybe the grave stood open for some time and they buried the other person or persons later, or maybe it was really simultaneous death.”
Scientists are still looking into the mystery and trying to find the answer. Molodin added, “We need to firstly establish unequivocally the kinship of those who were buried. Until recently archaeologists had no such opportunity, they could establish only the gender and age. But now as we have at our disposal the tools of paleogenetics, we could speak about establishing the kinship.”
In 2007, archaeologists uncovered a grave from 6100 BC that revealed another couple buried in a loving embrace (Photo left). This grave was found in Turkey in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir. They were able to discern that the man was 30 years old and the woman 20 years old.
Archaeologists Halil Tekin, of the Hacettepe University in Ankara, believes the couple belonged to an ancient culture called the Hassunan. According to Tekin, “The way they were buried signifies that they were lovers. An illness or even a crime of love may have been the cause of their deaths. We will learn much more about them after anthropologists in our university complete their examinations on the skeletons.”
On the other side of the fence, C.C. Lamberg-Karlovsky (Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology) stated, “The single photograph illustrated does not actually even indicate that they are embracing. They are both in a flexed position lying on their side, but the word ‘embracing’ is not indicated by the evidence.”
Another scientist, Yossi Garfinkel (Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology) said, “We don’t know what happened there. Maybe they are just two people who died on the same day and were buried together. Maybe it’s a brother and sister who died in a plague. Maybe it was two men. Until they conduct DNA tests and determine the genetic similarities between them, there is no way of knowing much of anything about this.” (The photo to the right shows a parent/child grave.)
OK, I know they can tell male and female skeletons from each other based on the pelvic bones, but perhaps Professor Garfinkel was speaking in generalities, or maybe those bones were too decomposed to be able to tell.
The bottom line seems to be they need the DNA test results. No matter what the argument, it all seems to come down to that. So far I’ve been unable to find the DNA results from these skeletons, but I’ll keep looking.
The more I dug into this story, pardon my pun, what amazed me most was the numbers of ancient graves they were unearthing with “embracing” couples in them. Here’s an interesting snippet from a National Geographic article dated February 13, 2007:
“In what’s been called a Valentine’s Day gift to Italy, archaeologists today excavated two interlocked Stone Age skeletons—leaving their “eternal embrace” intact and making it easier to analyze the double burial. (Photo left)
Discovered last week during construction not far from Verona, the setting of Romeo and Juliet, the roughly 5,000-year-old couple has already become an icon of enduring love to many.
Like Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, the prehistoric twosome appear to be young, as evidenced by the condition of their teeth. But that’s about all that is known about them so far. They could just as easily be two brothers.
But dig supervisor Elena Menotti takes the romantic view.
“It was a very emotional discovery,” the archaeologist told the Associated Press last week. “From thousands of years ago we feel the strength of this love. Yes, we must call it love.””
Ahh, you’ve got to love those romantic Italians.
Til the next time! Happy St. Valentine’s Day!