A rare discovery at an ancient Harappan site shows that death doesn’t even mean the end for some relationships. The couple’s burial stands out from others in a sprawling cemetery. Even in the grave, the man was laid to rest in such a way that it appears he’s still admiring his partner.
It’s definitely not the only example of a double burial from an ancient civilization, but archaeologists held back from releasing the discovery for a couple years to be sure they’d have enough information to explain the first concrete example of a Harappan couple’s burial.
The ancient Harappan couple may not have been buried with much, the grave goods in their case are actually quite sparse, but the manner in which they were laid to rest makes their burial a special one.
According to BBC News , the grave was discovered in 2016 by archaeologists excavating in a cemetery outside what was once an important Harappan (also known as the Indus Valley Civilization) settlement. They made their find roughly 150 km (93.2 miles) northwest of Delhi in what is now Rakhigarhi village .
What Have Researchers Discovered about the Harappan Couple?
After two years of analysis, the joint South Korean and Indian team of researchers have now published their findings in the ACB Journal of Anatomy and Cell Biology . In their paper they describe some details on what they have discerned about the two skeletons and how they may have been when they were alive.
First, you may wonder how they discovered that the skeletons are of a man and woman. The scientists examined each pelvis. Lead archaeologist Vasant Shinde explained what they were looking for to Times of India , “A narrow greater sciatic notch and the absence of a preauricular sulcus is that of a female. More such features during the analysis helped us determine the sex of each skeleton.”
In their paper, they state that the couple were relatively tall for their time and young when they died. It’s estimated that both died when they were between the ages of 21-35. By examining long bones, the scientists decided the man was about 172 cm (5.64 ft.) tall and the woman was more or less 160 cm (5.25 ft.) tall.
But the scientists found few clues to the cause of death. No signs of pathological lesions (which could suggest leprosy or tuberculosis, for example) were found. The bones left no evidence for trauma or any medical intervention either.
The only characteristics to note were that they may have had a poor diet, which had caused some erosion on their teeth. Oh, and there was one really strange and unexplained aspect to the man’s skeleton – it was missing the feet!
“The man and the woman were facing each other in a very intimate way. We believe they were a couple. And they seemed to have died at the same time. How they died, however, remains a mystery,” Shinde told BBC News.
A Common Concern in Ancient Couple Burials
So, the mystery of the cause of death continues. However, the researchers did touch on a common question that arises when people see double burials – suicide or sacrifice. They write :
“The couple in the grave must have been buried either simultaneously or almost so because there was no clear archaeological evidence that one of them had been buried later than the other.
The socio-cultural evidence, furthermore, does not indicate exclusionary mortuary behavior as has been observed in other Harappan cemeteries. We also ruled out that this grave might have been associated with any funeral customs by which widows take their own lives shortly after the husband’s death (e.g., Sati).”
Artifacts aren’t Everything
Finally, it was found that the couple didn’t go to their final resting place with many artifacts. The researchers only found some Mature Harappan Red ware bowls, globular pots and lids, and an agate bead which was located near the woman’s collar bone. They think that may have been part of a necklace.
Tony Joseph, author of Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From explained to BBC News that this is nothing odd. “The most striking thing about Harappan burials is how spartan they were. They didn’t have grand burials like, for example, kings in West Asia.”
In total, 62 graves were excavated at the Rakhigarhi cemetery, but it was found the man and woman were the only ones who stayed together all the way to the afterlife.