As one traverses the distance of centuries, one cannot help but appreciate the countless lives which have lived on this planet traversing the cosmos. Like the ever expanding cosmos with its multiple layers of stars, worlds and other objects known and unknown, human life on this ancient globe sometimes leaves a mystery or two to be pondered and explored.
So is the case of the so-called Lovers of Valdaro or “Romeo and Juliet” as some have named them. An embracing young man and woman in a grave were found by archaeologists near Mantua, Italy.
Their burial was in the Neolithic period six to seven thousand years ago. As a double burial, it was unique; double burials are rare.
Romantic notions aside, this young man and woman were born, lived and loved for approximately 20 years. They were the son and daughter of parents who if they were alive at the time of their children’s deaths must have experienced what all people experience down through the ages; the grief of loss of what was and what could have been.
One can speculate on how and why they died. Why were they laid together in an embrace? Was it part of a ritual which has long been forgotten?
Perhaps, the belief was that in the afterlife they would be joined for eternity if they were buried together. Separated in life but joined in the cosmic ocean with their song never-ending.
Was it a ritual sacrifice to appease some capricious god because of a bad harvest or a deadly malady or a plague of some nature? Too many children have been offered as oblations to the invisible beings which have enslaved their believers with obligations of worship and appeasement.
Were they twins—brother and sister? If one died, could the other not bear the thought of living without their sibling?
Were they Romeo and Juliet befallen by a misfortune of tragedy? Did they one wintry night venture far from camp and die from the elements?
No one knows the facts of these two young people. Their unknown story will continue to intrigue the minds of those who love a good mystery, especially a romantic mystery with such pathos of young love and untimely death.
What is apparent is that two young individuals died and left their community a lesser place. For when the young die, it is an open wound for those who loved and knew them.
Life is fragile. Not only embrace it but thrive in living it daily.
“People die all the time. Life is a lot more fragile than we think. So you should treat others in a way that leaves no regrets. Fairly, and if possible, sincerely. It’s too easy not to make the effort, then weep and wring your hands after the person dies.” Haruki Murakami
G. D. Williams © 2018
As in life, in death, they lie, embraced
In the Eternal Cloak of the cold cold ground
The warm bonds of an endless love
Between two lovers, shown when they were found
All away swept quickly all the years
That have passed since they lived back then
We are not that different, though we think we are
We are all but human, we are all men
We know not if there is life beyond death
Though our religions tell us so
But these lovers, embraced beneath the clay
Say there’s love beyond death, now we know!
Tomás Ó Cárthaigh, Lovers of Valdaro
Archaeologists were suddenly quoting lines from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Digging in the Italian village of Valdaro–near the city of Mantua, a setting for the famous Elizabethan tragedy–they uncovered a startling double burial. Dubbed the “Lovers of Valdaro” by the media, the pair were huddled close together, face to face, their arms and legs entwined, seemingly in an eternal embrace.
The burial, which dates to the Neolithic period (5000-4000 B.C.), caused an immediate stir among its discoverers. “I am so thrilled at this find,” says archaeologist Elena Maria Menotti, who led the excavation. “I have been involved in lots of digs all over Italy, but nothing has excited me as much as this. I’ve never been so moved, because this is the discovery of something special.”
Research into the two figures is still on-going but many questions may never actually be answered. It has been confirmed that they were a man and woman and were no more than 20 years old. Both figures were around 5 feet, 2 inches tall. The male skeleton (the figure on the left) had a flint arrowhead near his neck and the female had a long flint blade along her thigh, plus two flint knives under her pelvis upon discovery. Initially it was speculated that the weapons might have been the cause of death but an examination found no evidence of violent death, so these items were most likely grave goods. Their discovery in a necropolis also means that they didn’t die while hugging, to keep warm during a freezing night, for example, but were positioned that way after death.
Double burials from the Neolithic period are rare, and the position of the couple is certainly unique. It is the only example of double burial in Northern Italy. When the ‘lovers’ were discovered, photos of their embrace were published on media worldwide, causing great excitement, especially because the discovery took place near Valentine’s Day.
Archeologists have not been able to determine how the two died, but, in the popular imagination, the couple have come to symbolize the Romeo and Juliet of the prehistoric age, star-crossed lovers who took their own lives. A theory helped by the fact that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was set in nearby Verona, that Romeo was exiled to Mantua, where he was told that his Juliet was dead, and that Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Rigoletto, another story of star-crossed love and death, was set in Mantua.
I think the story could be more like Romeo and Juliet that the scientists are likely to admit. One could imagine angry parents forcing them into a grave and making them take each other’s lives using the flint blades. Perhaps they used poison–difficult to find traces of after 6000 years–just like Juliet. Perhaps they were the prince and princess of a long forgotten tribe that died while together out in the cold and their people buried them in the positions of lovers. This is really a story to ponder…