Mon. Feb 24th, 2020

Italian scientists conclude that "The lovers of Modena" were two men

Italian scientists have concluded that Modena's lovers, buried in Late Antiquity (about 1,600 years ago, centuries IV to VI) with intentionally intertwined hands, were two men and not a man and a woman.

This is evident in a study published in the journal 'Scientific Reports', after analyzing the peptides of the dental enamels of the skeletons. The researchers analyzed the dimorphic characteristics of the amelogenin protein to determine the sex of the so-called 'Modena Lovers'.

"We were able to extract dental enamel proteins from both individuals and classify them reliably as belonging to men. The results were compared with 14 modern and archaeological control samples, confirming the reliability of the ion chromatogram method for sex determination," they add. the scientists.

Modena's lovers were buried along with eleven other individuals. Some of these skeletons showed signs of trauma, probably related to their violent death during war conflicts.

Immediately after the discovery of the 'Lovers' Tomb, news about this peculiar find spread throughout the world and the media rumored that the skeletons belonged to a man and a woman who had fallen in love.

However, due to poor conservation of skeletal dimorphic districts, sex determination based on canonical osteological methods had not been possible. In addition, preliminary genetic analyzes were not consistent, due to diagenetic alterations of bone tissue.

After discovering that the 'Lovers of Modena' are two men, the researchers suggest that the burial of 'Lovers of Modena' represents a voluntary expression of compromise between two individuals, rather than a recurring cult practice of late Antiquity. "Your position may reflect such a relationship," they say.

War comrades, relatives or lovers?

Thus, they point out that the presence of several injured people inside the Ciro Menotti necropolis makes it possible to assume the fate of this place as a war cemetery. In this sense, the two 'Lovers' could have been war comrades or friends. They died together during a skirmish and, therefore, were buried inside the same grave.

Another possibility is that they were relatives, possibly cousins ​​or brothers given their similar ages, sharing the same grave because of their family bond. Although the researchers admit that they cannot exclude that these two individuals were really in love, they consider it unlikely that the people who buried them would decide to show that link by placing their bodies by the hand.

Researchers have analyzed the sexual classification of 'Lovers' using enamel peptides, since this tissue is more resistant to diagenetic modifications and compared their results with control samples from the same site and other Italian funeral contexts. Two modern teeth were also used to further verify the reliability of the method.

To strengthen the method for estimating sex by ion chromatograms, these experts propose the use of peptides of three peptides, with the aim of confidently identifying the male sex.

Sex, along with age at death and height, is one of the critical aspects of information necessary to define the biological profile of bone remains, according to the study authors, who point out that although some bones have sexual dimorphism, the evil Conservation status of some archaeological remains may completely alter or compromise the readability of dimorphic features in an individual, even if appropriate osteological techniques are applied.

Similarly, taxonomy, context and / or age can also influence the correct determination of sex. For example, it is generally easy to determine the sex of an adult human buried through macroscopic examination of dimorphic districts, while it can be difficult to determine the sex of wildlife remains or prepubertal individuals.

In these contexts, DNA can be a valid alternative for sex determination, even when the analytical costs and the survival of the DNA itself can greatly limit the use of genetic markers.

A recent article, as they explain, has revolutionized the way to achieve the sexual determination of skeletons from archeological and forensic contexts, thanks to enamel proteins. One of these proteins is amelogenin, whose gene translates into two isoforms linked to the sex chromosomes: AMELX (present in both sexes) and AMELY (restricted only to the male sex), which constitute 90% of all enamel proteome.

Homonymous genes are expressed as amelogenins, the proteins within tooth enamel. These proteins are released by ameloblasts (ie, enamel growth cells) during the secretory stage of enamel development, helping the organization of the crystalline structure.

By means of liquid chromatography mass spectrometry, a relatively fast and cost-effective technique, it is possible to verify the appearance of AMELX and / or AMELY isoforms in enamel samples to quickly estimate the sex of an individual.

In this work, the enamel proteome of two exhumed skeletons from a peculiar archaeological context was examined, exploiting the sexual specificity of AMELY. In particular, the scientists determined the sex of the so-called 'Lovers of Modena', two adult individuals intentionally buried by the hand.

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