Oldest Embracing Lovers Found in Turkey?

Mati Milstein
for National Geographic News
October 17, 2007

Two ancient skeletons found in each other's arms in a grave in Turkey might be the oldest known embracing couple, archaeologists say.

The remains, believed to be those of a 30-year-old man and a 20-year-old woman, were found last week in the southeastern Turkish province of Diyarbakir (see a map of Turkey).

The team carrying out the excavations found the remains under the floor of an ancient house at the Hakemi Use excavation site in Turkey's Bismil district.

The researchers dated the skeletons to 6100 B.C., said team leader Halil Tekin, an archaeologist at Hacettepe University in Ankara.

Tekin suggests that the couple were members of the Hassunan, an ancient culture that spread across what is now northern Iraq.

If this dating is correct, the Turkish couple would be some 3,000 years older than two interlocked skeletons discovered last February near Verona, Italy.

"The way they were buried signifies that they were lovers," Tekin was quoted as saying by the state-run Anatolia news agency. "An illness or even a crime of love may have been the cause of their deaths.

"We will learn much more about them after anthropologists in our university complete their examinations on the skeletons."

Evidence of an Embrace?

The Hakemi Use site is slated to be flooded once construction of the Ilisu Dam on the nearby Tigris River is complete, and Tekin has been carrying out salvage digs since 2001.

Tekin's previous research at the site had uncovered pieces of pottery that suggest the Hassunan culture, once thought to have spread only as far as northern Mesopotamia, had made it into what is now Turkey.

"Hakemi Use now seems to form the northernmost border of Hassunan/Samarra [pottery] ware in the Near East," Tekin wrote in the March 2005 issue of the journal Antiquity.

And if the newfound lovers lived 8,000 years ago, as Tekin's team believes, they would have been there during the time that the Hassunan occupied the region.

But other experts dispute the new claim, calling into question the notion of a lover's grave.

"The single photograph illustrated does not actually even indicate that they are embracing," said C. C. Lamberg-Karlovsky of Harvard University's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

"They are both in a flexed position lying on their side, but the word 'embracing' is not indicated by the evidence."

Yossi Garfinkel, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Archaeology, also expressed doubts.

"We don't know what happened there," Garfinkel said. "Maybe they are just two people who died on the same day and were buried together.

"Maybe it's a brother and sister who died in a plague. Maybe it was two men," he continued.

"Until they conduct DNA tests and determine the genetic similarities between them, there is no way of knowing much of anything about this."

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