Tomb of a noblewoman and her 'lover' unearthed: Ancient grave hints that man was sacrificed so they could lie together for eternity

  • Remains dating to the 5th century were found in tomb in Hwangnam-dong
  • Show a man's bones on top of a woman's who was buried with jewellery
  • Experts believe Silla Dynasty-era tomb was built for a noblewoman and her lover or bodyguard was sacrificed and buried on top of her
  • There's a suggestion that the set-up may have been designed to show two people having sex - and the Silla were known for their explicit pottery

Burying the dead along with a human sacrifice was common in ancient Korea.

But an unusual tomb dating to between the 5th and 6th century seems to hold the remains of two lovers, one of whom may have been killed so the pair could lie together for eternity.

The skeletons were found on top of one another in the tomb from Korea’s Silla Dynasty, leading some experts suggesting that the set-up could even have been designed to show two people having sex.

An unusual tomb dating to between the 5th and 6th century seems to hold the remains of two lovers, one of whom may have been killed so the pair could lie together for eternity. Here, the bones of the two people can be seen on top of one another, leading some experts to suggest the set-up was designed to imitate sex

An unusual tomb dating to between the 5th and 6th century seems to hold the remains of two lovers, one of whom may have been killed so the pair could lie together for eternity. Here, the bones of the two people can be seen on top of one another, leading some experts to suggest the set-up was designed to imitate sex

Archaeologists are almost certain that the tomb was intended for a noblewoman and believe that the man she is lying with may have been killed so he could be buried with her.

The tomb is made of soil and stone and was discovered last December in Hwangnam-dong, a neighbourhood of Gyeongju City in South Korea,Korea Joongang Daily reported. 

It was the capital of ancient Silla for almost 1,000 years and is known for its intricate gold ornaments and Buddhist temples.

The remains of the two people, including leg bones and teeth, were found in the main chamber of the tomb and are thought to have died between the ages of 20 and 30.

Experts believe the tomb was intended for the woman, because her body is carefully positioned to face the sky and she was buried with gold earrings, indicating her high status.

A belt, beaded necklace and jade green jewels were also found with her skeleton. It is not known whether she died naturally or was killed. 

Archaeologists are almost certain that the tomb was intended for a noblewoman and believe that the man she is lying with may have been killed so he could be buried with her. The position of the skeletons is shown above

Archaeologists are almost certain that the tomb was intended for a noblewoman and believe that the man she is lying with may have been killed so he could be buried with her. The position of the skeletons is shown above

It's thought that the tomb was intended for a noblewoman, based on the positioning of her skeleton and objects found with her body, such as gold earrings (pictured). In contrast, no precious possessions were found with the male body, leading experts to speculate that he was a human sacrifice and possibly, her lover

It's thought that the tomb was intended for a noblewoman, based on the positioning of her skeleton and objects found with her body, such as gold earrings (pictured). In contrast, no precious possessions were found with the male body, leading experts to speculate that he was a human sacrifice and possibly, her lover

WHO WERE THE MYSTERIOUS COUPLE IN THE TOMB? 

Both the woman and the man in the tomb are estimated to be between the ages of 20 and 30 when they died, or were killed.

The woman is thought to have been a noblewoman, based on the fact that her body was positioned on its back in the tomb, and she was buried with precious items such as gold earrings and jade.

A sword and horse harness was discovered in another room of the tomb, indicating she was used to riding a horse and carrying a weapon, which was not unusual during the Silla Dynasty, which sometimes had women rulers.

The man would have been the woman's lover, servant or body guard and it is likely that he was killed to be buried with her.

Human sacrifices were buried in tombs at the time so they could act as guards in the afterlife.

But when males were killed, they were usually placed at the feet of the person whom the tomb was intended for, or outside the main chamber, indicating that the man was of special interest to the noblewoman.

The fact that the bones lie on top of each other have led experts to think that the couple were lovers.

Some even say that their bodies were positioned to make it look like they were having sex.

In contrast, the man is believed to be a human sacrifice and his bones are positioned on top of hers.

While male sacrifices were rare but not unheard of at the time, the set up in tomb is thought to be unique.

Silla history expert, Professor Lee Han-sang of Daejeon University, told The Chosun Ilbo: ‘The man could have been a servant, bodyguard or lover’.

‘The discovery is important because it shows an unknown type of burial of the living with the dead in the Silla period.’ 

Kim Kwon-il, a researcher at The Foundation of Silla Cultural Heritage Research, said: ‘Male sacrifices were often buried in the room where the artefacts were, as guards, so to speak, for the dead.’

In the Silla tomb, the position of the teeth indicate that the man and woman’s heads laid next to each other.

The only bodies previously found in main chambers, show that human sacrifices were often positioned at the feet of the person whom the tomb was intended for.

Some historians believe that the couple were deliberately arranged to make it look as if they were having sex, Yonhap News Agency reported.

The man’s thigh bones were found on top of the woman’s, indicating that they could have been locked in an embrace when they were buried.

However, researchers at the foundation say that t's more likely that the man may have been buried on a wooden frame above her body, which decayed over time, so his bones became mingled with hers.

Explicit clay dolls with large penises or breasts have previously been found and belong to the Silla, supporting some claims that the burial could have been posed to look sexual.

In another room of the tomb, artefacts including a sword, harness and pottery was recovered, indicating that the woman probably rode horses and carried a weapon.

No artefacts linked to the man were found, reinforcing the belief he was a sacrifice.

Tombs from the early part of the Silla Dynasty are rare and just 24 are known to have been discovered.

The tomb is made of soil and stone and was discovered in Hwangnam-dong (shown on the map with a red marker), a neighbourhood of Gyeongju City in South Korea, last December

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