In DNA Veritas

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First it was a couple formerly known as “the Two Maidens”—two bodies buried in frozen embrace at Pompeii in 70 AD—who turned out to be two dudes (see the July-August 2017 BTW). Now another pair has been exposed, two Romans traditionally known as “the Lovers of Modena” who were buried together in a grave holding hands. While it was always assumed that they were a straight couple, DNA analysis has proved that both were men. Curiously, this discovery has raised questions about the nature of the pair’s relationship, which before was taken as a sure sign of heterosexual love. An Abstract by the European Research Council pointed to a lack of “analogous geo-chronological contexts” for comparison, adding that the meaning of handholding for Roman men is unclear. So, while the gesture was taken at face value when they were a married couple, now it’s a great mystery that defies easy interpretation. The Abstract concludes that “the burial represents a voluntary expression of commitment between two individuals,” but then adds: “But it’s unclear if the commitment was romantic in nature.” Huh?

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