Till death do us part and then some.
A pair of star-crossed lovers has been discovered in what scientists are proclaiming a rare moment of skeletal tenderness: The duo’s bones have been canoodling in the grave since the 5th century.
“Love as an important part of human emotion has been depicted in literature, folklore and art since ancient China,” wrote authors of a recent study about the boney sweethearts, who were buried together in northern China over 1,500 years ago. “However, in archaeological settings, direct skeletal evidence for love is rare.”
While the grave cuddle discovery is romantic, researchers are focused on the less amorous question at hand: How did a couple end up in such a cute position 6 feet under?
“It is likely that the wife sacrificed herself to be buried with her dead husband, though other scenarios could not be ruled out,” the authors wrote.
In addition to the woman’s probable suicide, their joint burial — likely during the North Wei Dynasty, which occurred from 386 to 534 CE — was defined by a ring worn by the female on her left ring finger.
“The free expression and active pursuit of love in Chinese culture became prominent during the first millennium,” researchers explained, and the ring displayed “the desire for eternal love of the couple, and the respect to their love by people who buried them as well.”
The funerary practices by which the couple was buried were possibly influenced by customs from the West or “beyond” which came to gravediggers by way of the Silk Road.
While morbid and misogynistic, study authors agree the fresh finding offers remarkable evidence of the ancient emotion and cultural traditions of the Xianbei people.
“This discovery is a unique display of human emotion of love in a burial, offering a rare glimpse of people’s views toward love, life, death and afterlife in northern China during a time of intense cultural and ethnic exchange,” they conclude in the study’s abstract.
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