Calcium (Ca), Lovers’ Graves, and the Periodic Table of Death
Think of Calcium as life’s structural support element. It’s the fifth most common element in the earth’s crust but easily forms compounds (1). In fact, about 99% of Ca found in our bodies is built into our bones as a complex and complicated mineral component that approximates this formula—Ca10(PO4)6(OH)2 (2).
When we toddle off this mortal plane and elect to be buried whole, the carbon-based organic portion of our bodies can become nutrition for other living creatures (e.g., bacteria, fungi. Bears.). But consumption tends to stop at the hard crunchy middle, so that those who make a living digging up dead people to study our past find Ca-enriched bones. And sometimes what’s dug up can astonish.
Burial rituals—both ancient and modern—compound the aloneness of death by single occupancy graves or coffins. Sure, cemetery plots and mausoleum slots contain side-by-sides for those linked in life, but it’s a togetherness that’s thwarted by the fact that death for a loving couple tends to occur on different days, or weeks, or years. What if the living left behind refuse to accept that separation? What if they elect to continue with their partner in death?
Like a lovers’ grave found in China of an embracing couple, the remains estimated to be 1500 years old. (3). He’s turned toward her, his skeletal right hand embracing her, her skull pillowed on his shoulder, her hands hugging his body. His bones tell us he’s in bad shape with a recently broken arm. She was healthy, and archeologists postulate that her grief at his death led her to sacrifice herself so that they could be together throughout eternity (4).
The village was under attack. A young couple in their 20s hid together in a grain bin, but the marauders set everything ablaze, the oxygen around them fueling the fire. The two quickly asphyxiated, their life’s end together recorded in their bones—his arm embracing her, her tender touch to his cheek, her face raised to his (5). The 2800-year-old burial was unearthed in Iran in 1972 (6). It’s a beautiful and immensely sad forever kiss.
The Lovers of Modena in Italy are about 1600 years old, two dark crumbling skeletons laying side-by-side, holding hands, a romantic burial during a time of great upheaval for the Roman Empire (7). It wasn’t until recently that the bones were subjected to tests that showed the couple were men, possibly soldiers and comrades in arms, possibly brothers, but also possibly two men in love and willing to commit themselves to each other throughout the rest of time.
And finally, my favorite, although like all of the other lovers’ graves, very little is known or understood about the people is the burial. This young couple—him about 25 and her about 20—are spooning, his body curled around her, their legs and arms entwined (8) as if death crept up on them while they slept 6000 years ago in what is now Greece. It’s one of the oldest burials of a couple ever unearthed and was found in a cave that inspired myths of Hades and the Underworld.
And all of this eternal love and romance in death was brought to you by the periodic table element Calcium.
Macabre and Fascinating Research this Week
Visiting interesting corners of the internet in pursuit of macabre research for the Periodic Table of Death: Calcium and Lovers’ Graves
My newsletter is published once a month on the 9th. One of the features is a short, well-referenced article that takes a periodic table element and finds true past and contemporary ‘history’ on how that element either kills us humans or is related to murder and death. This month, the element is calcium and skeletal remains, but not just ANY skeletal remains–the ancient bones of people entwined in the grave.
You might not think that too many of these graves exist, but they do. What’s fascinating about that is that most are ancient burials and they aren’t something that are easy to find because they’re, well, ancient and exceedingly rare. These graves can be thousands of years old. Some date back to when archeologists believe the first burial customs were being developed.
Now, a little about these lovers. Some of the couples face each other, some spoon, arms tucked around what was once a waist, some hold hands, some have entwined limbs. One has a skeletal hand cup the cheek of their companion’s skull, tenderness and love in a pose from the grave. Another’s skull rests on the boney shoulder of her husband.
All are tender and sad, and we have no idea what their true stories are. This allows the imagination to soar.
Does this pique your interest? Do you want to know more? How about a list of the elements and titles of past Periodic Table of Death articles:
Carbon (C), Memento Mori, and Memory Diamonds. Create a diamond keepsake made from the ashes of your loved one. Or you pet.
Chromium (Cr), the movie Erin Brockovich, Hinkley, California, and the fight with Pacific, Gas and Electric to pay for the cancer and sickness of soil and water contaminated by Chromium.
Helium (He), homicide, or maybe suicide(?) and balloons that carry away the gun.
Hydrogen (H), the Hindenburg, and the only death on the ground from the explosion and fire.
Iron (Fe) and the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. There’s this AMAZING song by Gordon Lightfoot…
Lithium (Li) which is actually the Periodic Table of Life, because natural lithium in drinking water statistically DECREASES crime(!)
Nitrogen (N) Don’t drink it in liquid form! It’s really, really cold and can (will) mess up your insides.
Silver (Ag) and French werewolves in the mid 1700s. French werewolves. Not kidding. You have to read this to believe it. Even then.
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There are a lot more periodic table elements that can kill you. It makes for fascinating research.