Lovers of Modena skeletons holding hands were both men

The skeletal remains buried in Roman times were assumed to be of a man and a woman

The skeletal remains buried in Roman times were assumed to be of a man and a woman

What is known about the skeletons is that they were "two Late Antique individuals whose skeletons were intentionally buried hand-in-hand", according to the study. When the skeletons were discovered in 2009, people couldn't resist imagining a back story for the mysterious couple, which became known in the media as the "Lovers of Modena". They were dubbed the "Lovers of Modena" by the global media.

"There are now no other examples of this type", Federico Lugli, a researcher at the University of Bologna and the lead author of the Nature study, told Rai News.

After the initial discovery, the scientists were not able to determine the sex of the two individuals with absolute certainty using traditional analysis of the bones because the skeletons were in a bad state of preservation.

Some suggest the skeletons - who were of similar age - could be related, such as brothers or cousins.

The details of the study were published Wednesday in Scientific Reports, an academic journal published by the Nature Group.

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This isn't the first time two skeletons were discovered hand-in-hand or embracing, but all the other documented cases were a man and a woman.

If the pair had been lovers, it would have been unusual in that period for their relationship to have been recognized in burial, Lugli told La Repubblica. Or soldiers who died together in battle: "the necropolis in which they were found could be a war cemetery". This test looks at two kinds of protein called AMELY, which is only found in males and AMELX, which is present in both sexes.

"We suggest that the "Lovers of Modena" burial represents a voluntary expression of commitment between two individuals", the authors wrote in their study. "We were able to extract proteins from the dental enamel of both individuals (~1600 years old) and to confidently classify them as males", the paper says.

"Although we can not exclude that these two individuals were actually in love, it is unlikely that people who buried them made a decision to show such bond by positioning their bodies hand in hand", they conclude.

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