Their loving embrace has lasted an eternity – well 5000 years to be precise
It is the city where the exiled Romeo dreamed he died and Juliet’s kisses breathed life back into his body.
Tragically, the lifeless bodies of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers would soon lie side by side.
Yesterday at Mantua, in an amazing echo of that heartrending story, archaeologists revealed the discovery of a couple locked in a tender embrace, one that has endured for more than 5,000 years.
The find was unearthed by experts digging at a neolithic site at a less than romantic industrial estate. Scientists are to examine the skeletons to try to establish how old they were when they died and how long they have been buried.
One theory being examined is that the man was killed and the woman then sacrificed so that his soul would be accompanied in the after life.
Elena Menotti, who is leading the dig at Valdaro near Mantua in northern Italy, said: ‘I am so excited about this 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.
"I am so thrilled at this find. I have been involved in lots of digs all over Italy but nothing has excited me as much as this."
"I’ve been doing this job for 25 years. I’ve done digs at Pompeii, all the famous sites.
"But I’ve never been so moved because this is the discovery of something special."
An initial examination of the couple – dubbed the Lovers of Valdaro – revealed that the man (on the left in the picture) has an arrow in his spinal column while the woman has an arrow head in her side.
The area has already given up a spectacular Roman villa.
Five thousand years ago the area around Mantua was marshland and criss-crossed by rivers and the environment has helped preserve the skeletons in their near perfect state.
The tribes of the area thrived through hunting and fishing and travelled along the waterways in boats but even then the simple hunter gatherer lifestyle was being replaced by livestock rearing, weaving and pottery.
In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is sent to Mantua for killing Tybalt Capulet in a swordfight.
Romeo subsequently leaves the city and returns to Verona when he hears his love, Juliet, has died.