IMAGE: International Journal of Osteoarchaeology
During the joint effort by Chinese and American universities in the city of Datong (Shanxi province, China), a team of archaeologists excavated skeletal remains of a couple that appears to be locked in an embrace, presumably at the time of their death. The well-preserved remains belong to a woman wearing a band on her ring finger, discovered next to a man in a sign of possible tragedy from over 1,500 years ago.
The remains were first unearthed in northern China in 2020 as a part of the excavating project of nearly 600 tombs at a cemetery, according to the study published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology.
The embracing couple breathed their last in Datong, in Shanxi province, and lived during the era of the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534), which covered much of modern-day north and central China, scientists speculated in their findings. The two skeletons were found lying on their side, and as the scientists attempted to determine the position in which the couple was buried, they stated that the two shared a deep bond as the woman’s skeleton was buried snugging into the man’s shoulder while he held on to her waist.
“The message was clear – husband and wife lay together, embracing each other for eternal love during the afterlife,” the authors wrote in the paper.
They went on to add that this would be the first time ever that two skeletons locked in an affectionate embrace have been unearthed in China.
Archaeologists stated that the evidence of such direct materialization of love in burials, such as the one found in India’s Taj Mahal, has been rare, and even rarer in skeletal form. An associate professor at the Institute of Anthropology at Xiamen University named Qun Zhang, who co-authored the paper, said “During the Northern Wei era, Buddhism was popularised and people’s concepts of the afterlife became more abundant.”
Therefore, it appears that the man would have died first and the woman killed herself in order to be buried alongside her lover. This theory could be proved from the notable signs of trauma that the scientists spotted on the male skeleton, while there were nothing of that sort on the woman.
“Size, shape, structure, and orientation of the tombs indicate that the cemetery was used by commoners,” Zhang further noted.
Scientists are also considering the possibility that the two lovebirds may have passed away together due to a fatal illness, or perhaps during a conflict. But they were immediately buried together in the same grave. Woman’s band in the finger associates the couple with a symbol of love or marriage. “This joint burial could be direct evidence of a full display of love and the importance of the rings in love," scientists explained in the study.
Co-author of the study, Qian Wang, an associate professor at the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University, said that the ring was simply made in silver because it did not have any engravings and didn't look fancy.
“This discovery is a unique display of the human emotion of love in a burial, offering a rare glimpse of concepts of love, life, death, and the afterlife in northern China during a time of intense cultural and ethnic exchange,” he added.