Expert explains how to tell someones age from a skeleton
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Expressions of selfless love are rarely found in the archaeological record, according to Chinese researchers, but this pair of North Wei Dynasty lovers has bucked the trend. The loving couple was discovered last summer at a cemetery in Shanxi province, in the northeast parts of China. Dated to the North Wei Dynasty (386 534 AD) the remains of a Xianbei man and woman were recovered from a joint burial, which in and of itself is not unusual.
Archaeologists, however, rarely find skeletons locked in an embrace and in a gut-wrenching twist, the woman may have taken her life to be buried alongside her husband.
A metal ring was found on the woman’s left ring finger, indicating a life-long commitment and desire for “eternal love”.
The discovery was published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology.
According to the report’s authors, the remains were locked into an embrace as a sign of respect “for their love by people who buried them”.
Archaeology news: This loving couple was found in eternal embrace in northeast China (Image: QIAN WANG)
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The report reads: “It is likely that the wife sacrificed herself to be buried with her dead husband, though other scenarios could not be ruled out.
“The free expression and active pursuit of love in Chinese culture became prominent during the first millennium.
“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.”
The Xianbei people were an ancient nomadic tribe that once thrived in the eastern Eurasian steppes of what is today Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, and northeast China.
The Xianbei were eventually assimilated into the Han people who account today for the world’s biggest ethnic group – 18 percent of the world’s population.
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According to Qian Wang, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the Texas A&M College of Dentistry, this is the very first time archaeologists have found a couple locked in an embrace like this anywhere in China.
The skeletons were discovered during excavation works in a cemetery covering some 600 burial plots.
Because of the heartbreaking nature of the discovery, the archaeologists decided not to fully excavate the couple.
Instead, their remains were left untouched for a future museum exhibition.
The researchers wrote: “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.”
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Among the other burial plots, the excavators found other joint burials – but none of them were embracing or wearing rings.
But even without pulling the skeletons apart, the researchers have been able to shed some light on the couple.
The man would have been about five feet and four inches tall.
He likely suffered a number of injuries before death, with signs of a broken arm, bone spurs and a missing finger on his right hand.
The archaeologists estimate he most likely died sometime between the age of 29 and 35.
The woman, however, appears to have lived a much healthier life.
She died between the age of 35 and 40 and was slightly shorter at five feet and two inches in height.
According to a report in Live Science, the woman was buried with her head downward and resting on her husband’s shoulder.
The man, meanwhile, was positioned with his right arm embracing his wife’s and his left arm beneath her body.
The researchers said in their paper: “The message was clear — husband and wife lied together, embracing each other for eternal love during the afterlife.”