Is It Really Eternal Love Or Just A Crowded Grave? Embracing Skeletons Face DNA Testing To Reveal Relationships

By Rhonda J. Miller on January 5, 2014 11:38 PM EST

Embracing Skeletons Discovered in Siberian Graves
Scientists studying more than 600 tombs in the village of Staryi Tartas in the Novosibirsk region of Siberia have discovered skeletons buried face-to-face as if in an eternal embrace. DNA testing is expected to help researchers decipher the relationships between the skeletons and the meaning of some of the ancient burial traditions. (Photo: Vyacheslay Molodin/SiberianTms / Rhonda J. Miller)

Scientists in Siberia have studied 600 tombs and discovered in many of them the skeletons of couples facing each other, some of them holding hands, as if linked for eternity. The embracing skeletons were found in the village of Staryi Tartas in the Novosibirsk region, according to The Siberian Times, which detailed the archaeological findings of couples "holding each other in a loving embrace for 3,500 years."

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Writer Vasiliy Labetskiy described the skeletons as in "post-mortal hugs with bony hands clasped together," The Siberian Times said.

Some of the graves have men or women buried with a child or children. Scientists have several theories, but no definitive evidence yet, of the relationships between what The Siberian Times said are "skeletons from the Andronovo burials."

Andronovo is a Late Bronze Age culture of Indo-Iranians in Central Asia dating back mostly to the second millennium B.C., according to the Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads. "There is a chain of Andronovo-type cultures in the forest-steppe zone of Western Siberia. The Andronovo culture is of great importance in understanding the early history of the Indo-Iranian speaking peoples," according to the center's website.

One theory about the Andronovo burial sites in Siberia is that after the man died, his wife was killed and buried with him, said Vyacheslav Molodin, director of research at the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

'We can fantasize a lot about all this. Maybe the grave stood open for some time and they buried the other person or persons later, or maybe it was really simultaneous death," Molodin told The Siberian Times. Another theory is that some of the couples were deliberately buried as if in a sexual act, possibly with a young woman sacrificed to play the role in the grave.

The findings of multiple skeletons in one grave present many options when theorizing about the practices of the ancient culture.

"When we speak about a child and an adult, it looks more natural and understandable," said Molodin. 'When we speak about two adults, it is not so obvious. So we can raise quite a variety of hypotheses, but how it was in fact, we do not know yet."

Another theory is that the couples buried between the 17th and 14th centuries B.C. show the beginnings of the nuclear family as a unit.

 "This could be the case. But, you see, we need to firstly establish unequivocally the kinship of those who were buried," said Molodin, referring to the necropolis close to the confluence of the rivers Tartas and Om. "Until recently, archaeologists had no such opportunity, they could establish only the gender and age. But now as we have at our disposal the tools of paleogenetics, we could speak about establishing the kinship."

Molodin estimated that the new tools that allow scientists to use DNA material to track ancient connections will reveal substantial information about the relationships among the Siberian skeletons in the next five to 10 years.

The theory of reincarnation could be another clue to the style of the burials, according to Lev Klein, a professor at St. Petersburg State University. The burials could be linked to reincarnation beliefs, possibly influenced by "deeksha" rituals in the ancient Indian subcontinent at the time when the oldest scriptures of Hinduism were composed.

"The man during his lifetime donated his body as a sacrifice to all the gods," said Klein. "The 'deeksha' was considered as a second birth and to complete this ritual, one made a ritual sexual act of conceiving." Under that theory, sexual intercourse was simulated in the grave to lead to the second birth.

Molodin said the research to reveal additional information about the burials and the cultures will continue in collaboration with the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Science.

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