An embracing Stone Age couple has been found in a Alepotrypa Cave, a site in the Peloponnesus that one archaeologist called “a Neolithic Pompeii,” the Greek Ministry of Culture, Education, and Religious Affairs announced.
The burial dates from roughly 5,800 years ago containing two well-preserved adult human skeletons, one male and one female, with arms and legs interlocked in an embrace.
Archaeologists also found bones from two other Neolithic double burials, as well as a roughly 3,300-year-old Mycenaean ossuary holding bone fragments from dozens of individuals and numerous expensive grave goods, including a bronze dagger, agate beads, and ivory likely sourced from Lebanon.
“Like most things in Greece, it’s complicated,” said Bill Parkinson, associate curator of Eurasian anthropology at Chicago’s Field Museum and one of the archaeologists working at the site. His research was supported in part by the National Geographic Society Committee for Research and Exploration.
The Alepotrypa—or “foxhole”—Cave represents one of the largest Neolithic burial sites known in all of Europe. Its enormous interior chambers reach more than half a kilometer into a mountain above Diros Bay, and burials in the cave span the entire Neolithic period in Greece, from 6000 to 3200 B.C. There are bones from at least 170 individuals inside the cave.
Around 3000 B.C., an earthquake collapsed the cave entrance, sealing and preserving its interior. The site was rediscovered in 1958, and excavations began in the 1970s.
The most recent finds lie at the top of a terraced slope just outside the cave. Radiocarbon dates for the three double burials range from 4200 to 3800 B.C. One burial holds the remains of a child and a newborn. A second burial contains the bones of a young man and a young woman facing each other in curled poses, their knees tucked beneath their chins, and the final burial contains the embracing couple.
“They’re totally spooning,” Parkinson said of the last pair. “The boy is the big spoon, and the girl is the little spoon: Their arms are draped over each other, their legs are intertwined. It’s unmistakable.”