Archaeologists have uncovered the skeletal remains of a man and woman buried for more than 1,500 years in northern China, with the two remains positioned in an ‘eternal love lock’.
The man, believed to be between 29 and 35 at the time of death, was likely around 5ft4in and had ‘several signs of … trauma’ including a broken arm, a missing ring finger on his right hand and issues with his feet.
The woman, who looked fairly healthy, was roughly 5ft2in and between 35 and 40 at the time of her death and had a ring on her left hand.
It’s unclear how the male and female ended up in the same grave, though it’s possible the wife sacrificed herself to be buried with her dead husband.
The couple’s remains – which had been tenderly arranged together – were discovered in June 2020 while workers were excavating the Shanxi province.
Archaeologists uncovered the 1,500 year-old skeletal remains of a man and woman positioned in an ‘eternal love lock’ in northern China
They were found in June 2020 while workers excavated the Shanxi province in northern China
The knife shaped tomb contained a male and female skeleton positioned in an embrace:
– Between 29 and 35 at time of death
– Several signs of physical trauma – including a broken arm and missing part of the ring finger on right hand
– Between 35 and 40 at time of death
– Relatively slender and fairly healthy at time of death
– Ring on ring finger on left hand
This burial arrangement, dubbed M831, is the first of its kind in China and could be a sign that changes towards love and its physical expression changed in the country during the North Wei Dynasty (AD 386-534).
‘The free expression and active pursuit of love in Chinese culture became prominent during the first millennium,’ the researchers wrote in the study’s abstract.
‘This funerary practice might have been influenced by the customs from the Western Regions and beyond through the Silk Roads and the Sinicization and assimilation of the Xianbei people.
‘This discovery is a unique display of human emotion of love in a burial, offering a rare glimpse people’s views towards love, life, death, and afterlife in northern China during a time of intense cultural and ethnic exchange.
‘The message was clear – husband and wife lied together, embracing each other for eternal love during the afterlife.’
Joint burials of males and females became prevalent during the era of Wei-Jin and Southern and Northern Dynasties in the mid first century.
Amazingly, ‘committing suicide for love’ was not only accepted in society, but actually promoted.
Common methods of committing suicide for love – which likely varied depending on social status and identity – included taking poison, drowning, hanging, jumping from high places, refusal of food and refusing medical treatment while sick.
The man was believed to be between 29-35 and had signs of trauma. The woman was between 35-40 and likely sacrificed herself to be buried
The female may have had dental problems and wore a ring on her left ring finger (pictured, C)
The researchers did not fully excavate the skeletons, so they could eventually be put on display in a museum intertwined, Live Science reported.
However, the researchers were able to get enough detail from the skeletons, given they were ‘well preserved,’ including ‘estimates of sex, age at death, height, and a partial assessment of bone health,’ the study added.
The female in grave M831 may have had dental problems and wore a ring on her ring finger, ‘by the customs from the western regions and beyond through the Silk Roads … and assimilation of the Xianbei people, reflecting the integration of Chinese and Western culture,’ the study’s lead author, Texas A&M associated professor Qian Wang, told Live Science.
An artist rendering of what the male and female looked like based on the skeletal postures. The design of clothes, head addressing and a pillow were based on historical records of North Wei dynasty
Most of the left side of the female’s skeleton was exposed and turned ‘right in a position to be embraced’.
Conversely, the male was on his right side, facing left, ‘and curved to the right resembling a bow, with two arms extended to the left in an embrace posture,’ the authors wrote in the study.
Two other couples were buried in the cemetery that ‘showed signs of two bodies intentionally positioned facing each other’ – however they were not intertwined, not as well preserved and did not have rings on them.
Approximately 600 burials were contained in the cemetery from the aforementioned Xianbei. Other items, such as ceramic goods, were also found in the cemetery.
The study was published in June in the the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology.
POSSIBLE CAUSES OF DEATH
There were multiple possibilities regarding how the couple in grave M831 died.
(1) The couple died at the same time due to interpersonal violence.
However, there were no signs of perimortem (at or near the time of death) physical trauma on the heads or exposed skeletons.
‘Thus the possibility of dying from trauma is excluded,’ the study authors say
(2) They died at the same time due to disease or poisoning. This is a possibility ‘not to be confirmed with confidence’, the researchers claim.
(3) The husband died first and the woman scarified herself to be buried together with her husband.
This is the most likely cause, based on the overall assessment of their skeletons.
(4) The wife died first, and the man scarified himself to be buried together with his wife.