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ARCHAEOLOGY

Ancient skeletons buried hand in hand in Italy belonged to two men, researchers find

A pair of fifth-century skeletons buried hand in hand and known since their discovery in 2009 as the "lovers of Modena" are both men, researchers reported this week.

Ancient skeletons buried hand in hand in Italy belonged to two men, researchers find
Human bones found at a Roman site in Rome. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Unable to verify their sex, scientists had simply assumed the degraded skeletons belong to a man and a woman, possibly lovers who resided in the north Italian town famous for its vinegar.

But a new technique for analysing protein in tooth enamel has left no doubt that this was a same-sex burial.

Exactly why the two men were carefully laid to rest with their hands interlocked remains a mystery.

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Several of 11 other skeletons unearthed at the same burial site showed signs of violent injury consistent with warfare, according to the study, published in Scientific Reports.

“The two 'lovers' could have been war comrades or friends who died together during a skirmish and were thus buried in the same grave,” University of Bologna professor Frederico Lugli and colleagues speculated.

“Alternatively, the two individuals were relatives — possibly cousins or brothers given their similar ages — sharing the same grave due to their family bond.”

It seems unlikely, they continued, that they were buried as a same-sex couple. “Although we cannot exclude that these two individuals were actually in love, it is unlikely that people who buried them decided to show such a bond by positioning their bodies hand-in-hand,” the researchers concluded.

There are at least half-a-dozen other examples of adults buried with hands intertwined reaching back to Neolithic times 8,000 years ago, but all are thought to be man-and-woman couples.


The so-called Lovers of Mantua, discovered in northern Italy in 2007. Photo: Italian Culture Ministry/AFP

“The discovery of two adult males intentionally buried hand-in-hand may have profound implications for our understanding of funerary practices in Late Antiquity Italy,” the researchers said.

The technique used to distinguish sex is based on a protein, called amelogenin, that is expressed differently in the tooth enamel of men and women.

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HISTORY

‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.

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