A unique grave was discovered in Datong city, Shanxi province, China in 2020 and now a new study of the site has been published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. The skeletal remains of a man and woman were found buried together locked in a loving embrace that is unusual. The burial took place during a time when the afterlife was of increasing importance across Asia due to the spread of Buddhism.

Datong shanxi city traffic
City traffic in Datong, Shanxi province. Via: Chlukoe/Wiki Commons

The discovery was made during an excavation of ancient burials that had been covered over with modern infrastructure. In all there were some 600 tombs found in the cemetery area and the lovers’ grave likely dates from the Northern Wei period when there was a shift in culture and government. The lovers’ grave dates from between 386 and 534.

Qun Zhang, one of the co-authors of the recent paper, said in an interview that “the size, shape, structure, and orientation of the tombs indicate that the cemetery was used by commoners.”

Further backing the idea that the pair were not of great wealth, the wife was wearing a plain silver ring at the time her burial. Researchers say that the humble and inexpensive ring may have symbolized their love. But, wedding rings were not a customary part of marriage rituals at the time. This particular ring was found on the woman’s left ring finger.

The man had a serious injury to his right arm that never healed correctly. It remains unclear if the injury could have killed him. It is possible that his wife committed suicide after his death, a practice that was not uncommon during this period of history in China. It is also possible that the pair died around the same time and that’s why they were buried together in a loving pose.

Other rare burials that show couples in this type of pose have been found at archaeological sites in Greece, Italy, and Transylvania, but they are not commonly found in any part of the world.