ROME—In 2009, the straight world swooned when archeologists discovered two ancient skeletons from between the fourth and sixth centuries A.D. holding hands in a grave in Modena, Italy. They were dubbed the “Lovers of Modena” and have become synonymous with heterosexual romance, their image now often used in Italy to symbolize undying love.
When they were discovered, archeologists said the bones were in such a state of decay that the usual genetic-based methods used in confirming the biological sex of ancient remains was of no use. Still, one of the figures was slightly smaller than the other, so it was assumed they were male and female. The individuals did not die in situ—their hands were placed holding each other’s by whoever buried them, most likely to represent a relationship between the two people. Eleven people were buried in the cemetery where they were found, all initially thought to be soldiers and victims of an ancient war based on wounds consistent with battles. The consensus among anthropologists was that the presumed female hand-holder was the lover of one of the warriors.
This week, scientists with the University of Bologna announced the “Lovers of Modena” were actually both biologically male, thanks to a revolutionary process they used to examine tooth enamel. A certain peptide that is present only in males was present in all 16 teeth extracted from both skeletons. The scientists also found that only one of the 11 individuals buried in the cemetery was female, and she wasn’t holding anyone’s hand.
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