Photo shows embracing skeletons of ‘lovers’ who died 2,800 years ago?


A photo that went viral on social media shows two authentic skeletons preserved in an embrace for 2,800 years.


Rating: Mixture

Rating: Mixture

What is true:

Archaeologists discovered the skeletons nicknamed the “Hasanlu Lovers” lying in an apparent embrace, and the skeletons have been dated to around 800 BCE, about 2,800 years ago. However, …

What has not yet been determined:

Archaeologists are not sure what the exact relationship is between the two people, and they are not sure whether they actually hugged each other when they died, or whether someone else placed them in that position after they died.

Editor’s Note: This story contains images and descriptions of human skeletons, which some readers may find disturbing.

On July 1, 2024, Reddit user u/GeekGuruji posted to the r/interestingasf**k subreddit with a black-and-white photo of two human skeletons lying next to each other in an embrace. The post read: “Discovered in 1972, the ‘Hasanlu Lovers’ died around 800 BCE. Their final moments seemed sealed in an eternal embrace or kiss, preserved for 2,800 years.”

At the time of writing, the post had received approximately 52,000 upvotes and 916 comments.

The photo appears to have first gone viral in 2013, when it circulated on Tumblr And Reddit with a caption identifying it — incorrectly, as will be explained below — as a “6,000-year-old kiss.” More recent posts featuring the photo include a March 21, 2022 post by the Facebook page History All Day and a TikTok post from user @archthot on August 14, 2023.

The skeletons were indeed found lying in the intimate position shown in the photo in Hasanlu, Iran, in 1972 (some sources date their discovery to 1973, the year the find was first officially published in the scientific journal Iran). Based on the context in which the skeletons were found, archaeologists have dated them to around 800 BCE, about 2,800 years ago.

However, much remains unknown about the skeletons, including their relationship to each other and whether they actually died in each other’s arms or were positioned that way after death. For these reasons, we have rated this claim as “Mixture.”

A joint team of archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Archaeological Service of Iran excavated the Hasanlu site in the Solduz Valley in northwestern Iran between 1956 and the mid-1970s. Based on the evidence found there, Hasanlu appears to have been a thriving commercial and artistic center until it was destroyed by unknown attackers around 800 BCE.

The two skeletons are believed to have died during this attack around 800 BC, but not much more can be said with certainty about their deaths.

In a 2017 article For the journal Expedition, a publication of the Penn Museum of the University of Pennsylvania, Page Selinsky, an anthropologist who has studied the skeletons, laid out some of the the persistent questions that surround them.

A major unknown is how the two individuals died. Unlike the dozens of other sets of human remains found at the site, which were mostly found on the street or in the rubble of collapsed buildings, the “Lovers” were found in a brick and plaster storage bin, their heads resting on a stone slab. The two skeletons showed some evidence of trauma, but nothing that would indicate cause of death.

For these reasons, some scholars have suggested that the skeletons’ owners may have climbed into the pit to hide during the attack on Hasanlu and eventually suffocated. However, it is worth noting that many types of fatal injuries only affect soft tissue and do not leave marks on bones.

Another unresolved question, namely the exact relationship between the skeletons, is touched upon in the video below, produced by the Penn Museum in 2017.

In the video, Selinsky and Janet Monge, another anthropologist from the University of Pennsylvania who studied the skeletons, explain how researchers determined the genders of the “Lovers.” While the morphology of the skeletons’ skulls and pelvises was inconclusive, analysis of DNA samples from each skeleton showed that both skeletons were genetically male. Harvard University geneticist David Reich, whose lab conducted the analysis, confirmed the results to Snopes via email.

As Monge notes around the 06:55 time stamp of the video, simply knowing the physical sex of the skeletons does not explain the relationship between the individuals. Monge explains, “They could have been strangers, they could have been family members, they could have been lovers. They could have been in any relationship with each other.”

The exact relationship between the skeletons may never be fully understood. However, Monge notes in the video: “When it comes to emotionally charged work, this is about the best you’ll find in archaeology.”

A Penn Museum spokesperson explained via email that the Penn Museum continues to care for the skeletons of the “Hasanlu Lovers,” which “were removed from display in the mid-1980s for conservation purposes. Today, as part of the Penn Museum’s policy for human remains, which prioritizes human dignity and the wishes of descendant communities, no exposed human remains are displayed at the museum.”


“Expedition Magazine | Lovers, Friends or Strangers?” Expedition Magazine Accessed July 2, 2024.

Kleiss, Wolfram, et al. “Research on Excavations in Iran 1971-72.” Iranvol. 11, 1973, pp. 185–214. JSTOR

Koehl, Robert B. AMILLA: The quest for excellence: studies presented to Guenter Kopcke in honor of his 75th birthday. INSTAP Academic Press, 2013.

Mallick, Swapan and David Reich. The Allen Ancient DNA Resource (AADR): a curated compendium of ancient human genomes. [object Object]2023. (Datacite)

Penn Museum. Expedition – “Hasanlu Lovers.” 2017. YouTube

Tedesco, authors: Laura Anne. “Hasanlu in the Iron Age | Essay | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Retrieved July 2, 2024.

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