Prehistoric couple found in timeless embrace

Archeologists have unearthed two skeletons from the Neolithic period locked in a tender embrace and buried outside Mantua, just 40 kilometres south of Verona, the romantic city where Shakespeare set the star-crossed tale of Romeo and Juliet.

It could be humanity's oldest story of doomed love.

Archeologists have unearthed two skeletons from the Neolithic period locked in a tender embrace and buried outside Mantua, just 40 kilometres south of Verona, the romantic city where Shakespeare set the star-crossed tale of Romeo and Juliet.

Buried between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, the prehistoric pair are believed to have been a man and a woman and are thought to have died young, as their teeth were found intact, said Elena Menotti, the archeologist who led the dig.

"As far as we know, it's unique," Menotti said by telephone from Milan. "Double burials from the Neolithic are unheard of, and these are even hugging."

The burial site was located Monday during construction work for a factory building in the outskirts of Mantua. Alongside the couple, archeologists found flint tools, including arrowheads and a knife, Menotti said.

Experts will now study the artifacts and the skeletons to determine the burial site's age and how old the two were when they died, she said.

Double prehistoric burials a rarity

Luca Bondioli, an anthropologist at Rome's National Prehistoric and Ethnographic Museum, said double prehistoric burials are rare— especially in such a pose— but some have been found holding hands or having other contact.

The find has "more of an emotional than a scientific value," he said,adding it does highlight how the relationship people have with each other and with death has not changed much from the period in which humanity first settled in villages and learned to farm and tame animals.

"The Neolithic is a very formative period for our society," he said. "It was when the roots of our religious sentiment were formed."

The two bodies, which cuddle closely while facing each other on their sides, were probably buried at the same time, possibly an indication of sudden and tragic death, Bondioli said.

"It's rare for two young people to die at the same time, and that makes us want to know why and who they were, but it will be very difficult to find out."

He said DNA testing could determine whether the two were related, "but that still leaves other hypotheses; the 'Romeo and Juliet' possibility is just one of many."