Archaeologists working at the Alepotrypa Cave in Greece have discovered a rare 5,800-year-old double burial in which two well-preserved skeletons were found in what appears to be the spooning position.

This excavation site is one of the largest Neolithic burial sites in all of Europe. The cave has a huge interior, with some of its chambers measuring more than half a kilometer in depth. Alepotrypa Cave is located above Diros Bay and burials within it span the entire Neolithic period in Greece, from 6,000 to 3,200 BC. Sometime around 3,000 BC, an earthquake rocked the area, causing the cave entrance to collapse and lock its interior to outside intruders. Though rediscovered in 1958, excavations did not start until the 1970s. To date, archaeologists have uncovered the remains of no less than 170 individuals.

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In addition to the embracing couple, the archaeologists uncovered the remains of a child and a newborn, along with a second burial containing the bones of a young man and woman facing each another in a curled position.

Writing in National Geographic, Rick Romeo describes the couple:

"They're totally spooning," [Bill] Parkinson [associate curator of Eurasian anthropology at Chicago's Field Museum] 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."

Anastasia Papathanasiou, a Greek archaeologist who has worked at the site since the late 1980s, said the couple probably died in the embracing pose or were placed in this pose shortly after death. "It's a very natural hug; it doesn't look like they were arranged in this posture at a much later date."

Some media reports have claimed the couple was stoned to death, but Parkinson and Papathanasiou cautioned that there is no evidence for this. The cause of death is a mystery.

As noted by Romeo, these folks lived during what appears to be an exceptionally violent period. More than 30% of the skeletons feature evidence of blunt cranial trauma, likely inflicted by rocks, stones, or clubs. That said, these wounds appear to be nonlethal. The archaeologists attribute the violence to competition for land, water, and/or other resources.

Much more at National Geographic.

Image: Greek Ministry of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs.