Scientists to save 5,000-year-old embrace
VALDARO, Italy (Reuters) - Italy won't split up its Stone Age "lovers".
In a Valentine's Day gift to the country, scientists said they are determined to remove and preserve together the remains of a couple buried 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, their arms still wrapped around each other in an enduring embrace.
Instead of removing the bones one-by-one for reassembly later, archaeologists plan to scoop up the entire section of earth where the couple was buried, they told Reuters.
The plot will then be transported for study before being put on display in an Italian museum, thereby preserving the world's longest known hug for posterity.
"We want to keep can them just as they have been all this time -- together," archaeologist Elena Menotti, who announced the discovery a week ago, told Reuters.
Their removal will be a relief for archaeologists who had to hire extra security to guard the rural site outside the northern city of Mantova after the discovery made world headlines.
More importantly, it will give scientists a chance to figure out what was has become one of Italian archaeology's greatest mysteries: the first known Neolithic couple to be buried together, hugging.
Was it a sudden death? A ritual sacrifice? Or maybe they were prehistoric, star-crossed lovers who took their own lives.
That is a crowd-pleasing theory in these parts, since Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was set in nearby Verona.
But scientists acknowledge they still know precious little about the now-famous Stone Age couple, whose embrace has become a subject of world newspaper headlines and chat shows.
Italians dubbed them the "Lovers of Valdaro" after the Mantova suburb of farmland and factories. But even their gender is a open question until scientists confirm the theory that they were a man and a woman.
Archaeologists seem certain the couple died young, since their teeth are intact and that they died during the Stone Age because of an arrowhead and tools found with the remains.
But new evidence indicates the couple were not alone and that the remains may have left been near a Stone Age settlement.
A CULT? DEATH GRIP?
Archaeologists on site showed Reuters photographs of another skeleton found nearby, suggesting the couple were in some sort of prehistoric burial ground.
While the single body was buried East-West, possibly following the daily path of the sun across the sky, the Stone Age couple were buried "the wrong way".
"They were buried North-South, and we don't know why," said archaeologist Daniela Castagna, standing over the grave site.
John Robb, lecturer at Cambridge University and an expert in Neolithic Italian remains, says the trouble with the Stone Age couple is the singularity of the find -- which makes it difficult to explain using known historic data.
He said Neolithic burials are almost always single burials.
"There are a couple of mass burials. There are couple of examples of heads being found under houses. And then, about one burial in every 20 or 30 sites is completely unique," he said.
"And these are probably things that have strange ritual circumstances of one kind or another."
But until scientists get a closer look at the bones, all anyone has are loose theories.
The discovery generated Internet conspiracy theories with some taking a darker interpretation of the hugging skeletons.
One reader on AOL, said it was absurd to assume "this couple is in eternal bliss".
"Maybe it is eternal hatred that had them locked together in a death grip," wrote another reader.
Other people have called for the couple to be left alone -- something that Italian archaeologists say would leave the remains vulnerable to looters, vandals and even bad weather.
There is also a practical reason, the owner of the land hopes to soon build warehouses on it.
"We say rest in peace -- unless you're dead long enough to be interesting," wrote another reader, Jim Noonan.
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