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Tooth Enamel Reveals Sex of Ancient Individuals Buried Hand in Hand

Friday, September 13, 2019

MODENA, ITALY—New analysis of the tooth enamel of two individuals, buried with their hands interlocked in a fifth-century A.D. necropolis, has revealed that both were men, according to a Live Science report. When the burial was discovered in northern Italy in 2009, mass media outlets assumed the individuals—dubbed the "Lovers of Modena"—were a man and a woman, though the badly preserved skeletons precluded a definitive determination of sex. However, Federico Lugli of the University of Bologna and his colleagues have found that both individuals' tooth enamel contained amelogenin isoform Y, a protein that is only present in the enamel of males. Based on this finding, the researchers suggest the burial represents an expression of commitment between the pair. While they cannot rule out a romantic relationship between the men, they noted that negative attitudes toward same-sex relationships in Late Antique Italy, as well as Christian religious restrictions in place at the time, make it unlikely those responsible for their burial positioning would have intentionally depicted such a connection. Other skeletons interred in the same cemetery show evidence of injury, perhaps indicating the necropolis was a war cemetery. If that is the case, the researchers added, the men may have been comrades or relatives who were killed during a skirmish. To read about the recent discovery of the burial of a Harappan couple in India, go to "A Plot of Their Own."

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