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The Oldest Kiss in the World

Welcome to House of History. As I was researching this video, which is about the oldest kiss in the world, I stumbled upon the world record of the longest kiss in the world. Apparently, in 2011 a Thai couple has managed to establish the new record: 46 hours, 24 minutes and 9 seconds. They beat the record by two Germans from 2009 that spent 32 hours, 7 minutes and 14 seconds kissing. Right. I doubt you’d ever want to kiss again after such an experience, but okay. Now, today I’m not going to talk about people that kiss longer than most people have ever been awake in one go. I want to talk about the oldest kiss in the world. I’m talking about the so-called Hasanlu lovers, an incredible archaeological find. Excavated in 1972, this “kiss” is estimated to have lasted for 2800 years and still fascinates archaeologists and the world alike. We’ll also be looking at some other rare archaeological finds of remains discovered in a loving embrace.

Teppe Hasanlu is an ancient city located in north-western Iran. It was inhabited from approximately 6000 BC to 300 AD, and nowadays there are still attempts by institutions to get the entire site to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And that isn’t too odd; in fact, it is rather strange the site isn’t on the list already. The city was destroyed in a fire during the 9th century BC, in effect rendering an entire layer of the city frozen in time. Knowing this, archaeologists had a field day: pots and pans, skeletons, artefacts and constructions remain preserved in the layer to be studied. Now, between 1956 and 1974 a team of scientists and archaeologists of the Metropolitan Museum in New York in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania excavated the archaeological site. Already in 1957 the archaeologists Robert Dyson discovered the Golden bowl of Hasanlu. The bowl was of solid gold and preserved in a great state, and estimated to be well over 3200 years old!

Besides the bowl, it was this excavation that lasted for 18 years that led to another surprising discovery. In 1972 two human remains were found on the excavation site. Now, there were 246 skeletons found in total, so that isn’t too rare. No, what was really surprising was the position of the remains. Apparently, this couple had been lying there, embracing each other in a kissing position for thousands of years. They were nicknamed ‘the Lovers’ and upon discovery became famous throughout the world.

So do we know what happened in the lead up to their deaths? It is assumed the couple died during a battle for control over Teppe Hasanlu during the 8th century BC. The 246 other skeletons found at the site and the injuries they sustained support that thesis. The Lovers, I’ll call them, sought refuge in a hole which must have collapsed on top of them leading to suffocation. They died together in an endearing embrace. Carbon-dating confirms them passing away around 800 before Christ, so a bit over 2800 years ago. The right skeleton was confirmed as being a man because of his pelvis structure. For a long time, it was assumed the way the man is positioned makes it seem he protected his lover as she was kissing him. 

New research shows that the body on the right is a young adult between the age of 19 and 22, whereas the other skeleton is between 30 and 35. This skeleton’s gender cannot be determined for sure, but there are studies that state both skeletons were male. And because no scientific research has conclusively confirmed the gender of the skeleton on the left, there is still an ongoing debate what the relationship between the remains was. 

Although the Lovers of Hansalu are technically the “oldest kiss” in the world, there are more examples, although they are rare, of skeletons excavated in a romantic position. The Lovers of Valdaro, for instance. Excavated in 2007 in San Giorgio near Mantua, Italy, human remains from the Neolithic era were found. Now to put that into perspective: archaeologists concluded the remains were over 6000 years old! Two skeletons appear to be embracing each other, looking in each other’s eyes as they died. The remains were of a man and woman, around 20 years old, face to face with their arms and legs intertwined. Thing is, these so-called double burials, where a couple is buried together were rare, if not unique during the Neolithic period. Certainly for Italy: this is the only double-burial from this era discovered. The region the couple was discovered was great for preservation: it consisted of marshland and rivers, which is why the skeletons were preserved so well. 

Lovers of Valdaro

So then there is the big question: how did they die? It is a bit of irony, but Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is situated in Verona, very closeby to where the lovers were found. Unfortunately, their deaths were probably a bit less romantic than in Shakespeare’s work. Well, the man had an arrow in his spinal column and the woman had an arrowhead in her side. The head archaeologist, Elena Maria Menotti, had this to say about the discovery: “We have never found a man and a woman embraced before and this is a unique find. We have found plenty of women embracing children but never a couple. Much less a couple hugging΄and they really are hugging. It’s possible that the man died first and then the woman was killed in sacrifice to accompany his soul. From an initial examination they appear young as their teeth are not worn down but we have sent the remains to a laboratory to establish their age at the time of death. They are face to face and their arms and legs are entwined and they are really hugging.”

If you’re interested, the skeletons are on permanent display in their own rooms in the Archaeological Museum of Mantua! 

Alright, so the last example I want to talk about is an interesting one as well. Closeby our previous example, in Modena, Italy, a couple was found that had been holding hands for 1600 years! These “lovers of Modena” were unearthed in 2009 and the media’s attention was drawn to it because of their seemingly romantic position. The skeletons had degraded to a point where archaeologists had difficulty establishing the gender of both skeletons. In 2019 a team of scientists ran teeth-analysis on the couple in order to determine their gender. Both skeleton’s teeth contained a protein called amelogenin isoform Y, a protein that is only found in the teeth of men. In the study, the scientists wrote “We suggest that the ‘Lovers of Modena’ burial represents a voluntary expression of commitment between two individuals,” and that they were uncertain if the reason for their position was romantic or not. 

It could very well have been the two were war friends. 11 other skeletons were found at the excavated site, all of them with injuries suggestion they died during a war. These two bodies could have been friends and have been lumped together in a grave because of that, according to the researchers. Or they could have been cousins or brothers due to their age, sharing the grave because of their family bond. The researchers reasoned that they could not be sure the two weren’t in a romantic relationship, but it is unlikely that [the] people who buried them decided to show such [a] bond by positioning their bodies hand in hand.” Many of the people in the region had converted to Christianity by the time the men were buried, and authorities held a negative view of same-sex relationships, although admittedly Greek and Roman culture did allow for very intimate bonds between men to be expressed, and even encouraged.

Now as for the Hasanlu Lovers debate will continue about the gender of the skeletons since there cannot be a conclusive decision on the left skeleton. Nevertheless, it makes for a fascinating archaeological find and all three cases are, in my opinion, incredibly interesting.

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