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SCIENCE FILE

True romance, Stone Age style

Two skeletons found in a prehistoric embrace hint at the way we were.

February 10, 2007|From the Associated Press

ROME — They died young and apparently in love.

Two 5,000-year-old skeletons found locked in an embrace near the city where Shakespeare set "Romeo and Juliet" have sparked theories that the remains are from a far older love story.

Archeologists unearthed the Neolithic Age skeletons outside Mantua, 25 miles south of Verona, the city of Shakespeare's tragedy.

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

Although the Mantua pair strike an unusual and touching pose, archeologists have found other prehistoric burials in which the dead hold hands or have other contact, said Luca Bondioli, an anthropologist at L. Pigorini National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography in Rome.

Bondioli, who was not involved in the Mantua dig, said the find had "more of an emotional than a scientific value." But it does highlight how people's relationships with each other and with death have not changed much since humanity first settled in villages, he said.

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

Experts might never determine the nature of the pair's relationship, but Menotti said she had little doubt it was born of a deep sentiment. "From thousands of years ago we feel the strength of this love," she said. "Yes, we must call it love."

The couple's burial site was located Monday during construction of a factory.

Experts will now study the artifacts and skeletons to determine the ages of the site and the couple, Menotti said.

Establishing the cause of death could be impossible, unless the two were killed by a debilitating disease, a knife or something else that might have marked the bones, she said.

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