China’s Romeo and Juliet?


Lovers hugging one another in their tombs was a surprisingly commonplace practice during China’s Northern Wei Dynasty (AD 386-534). The latest example is a tomb from Datong City in northern Shaanxi province, which came to light in 2020, and is now published in the International Journal of Osteoarcheology.


The couple lay in a single coffin in the same grave. The man’s arms encircled the woman’s waist, while his female partner nestled against his chest with her head on his shoulder. She wore a silver ring on the ring finger of her left hand. She was apparently healthy, while the man had an unhealed, infectious fracture of his right arm. The researchers wonder if, given her good health, they committed suicide. What about the symbolism of the items? Was the woman’s silver ring a token of love, marriage, or merely decoration? We will never know, but it is worth noting that the Datong region was an ethnic melting pot at the time, with a popular fashion for longing and cherishing love.


Tombs of embracing lovers are known from other parts of the world, including Greece and Italy. At Alepotrypa in southern Greece, a couple aged 20 to 25 were buried locked tightly together in 3800 BC. So there is nothing especially unusual in a couple being buried together – even if they committed suicide before hand, which is unproven.



Image: the embracing couple, dated to the Northern Wei Dynasty (AD 386-534) unearthed in Datong City. [Photo/Xinhau]