The skeletons of a couple embracing one another have been discovered in northern China. The two have their arms around each other with the woman's face resting on her husband's shoulder. It is estimated that the two have held this embrace for fifteen centuries.
As the labile world around them changed, they held to one another without notice in their lost cemetery in Datong, in the Shanxi province. The cemetery was discovered during a construction project. More than 600 tombs were found.
The couple lived during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534 C.E.) during the rise of Buddhism in that area. Anthropologist Qun Zhang writes that during this period the people of the region had a growing belief in the notion of an afterlife.
This discovery is a unique display of the human emotion of love in a burial, offering a rare glimpse of concepts of love, life, death, and the afterlife in northern China during a time of intense cultural and ethnic exchange. (Qun Zhang, anthropologist)
Though the woman wore a ring, this not necessarily symbolizing a wedding bond in ancient times, it is not a certainty that they were indeed married. It is also unclear how the two died. It is possible that the two died together, though another possibility may bring the record playing their love song to a scratching halt.
The man has what appears to be an 'unhealed wound' on his hand and arm. It is a real possibility that he died from his wound and the woman followed him in death as a form of sacrifice. In later centuries, it was apparently common for a widow to commit suicide following the death of her husband and that could be the case here.
The rare double burial, or "lovers' tomb", offers few clues beyond the position in which the bodies were found. The man had a broken ulnar bone and part of a finger was missing. The woman had bone spurs on her spine and had lost some teeth before she died. Certainly not enough to paint a clear picture of what led to them embracing within their tomb for 15 centuries as empires rose and fell and discovery and innovation made the world something they would hardly have recognized.
The authors of the study published in the International Journal of Osteoarcheology feel that some conclusions can be safely reached however.
The message was clear - husband and wife lay together, embracing each other for eternal love during the afterlife. (Eternal Love journal article)