Ancient Lovers' Embrace Preserved

ROME (AP) -- Italy's recently discovered prehistoric couple will continue their 5,000-year-old embrace undisturbed through Valentine's Day and beyond.

The two skeletons unearthed last week locked in a deep hug will be scooped out of the earth in one piece to undergo tests before going on display in the northern Italian city of Mantua, archaeologists said Tuesday.

The pair, buried between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago in the late Neolithic period, are believed to be a man and a woman and are thought to have died young, because their teeth were found intact.

Archaeologists have hailed the find, saying that double burials from that period are rare and none have been found in such a touching pose.

The burial was unearthed on the outskirts of Mantua during construction work. The site is located just 25 miles south of Verona, the city where Shakespeare set the story of ''Romeo and Juliet'' and the discovery fueled musings in the media about prehistoric love.

Archaeologists too have said there is little doubt the couple's pose was born of a deep love, but have warned that it will be almost impossible to determine the exact nature of their relationship and how they died.

Mantua's archaeological office said in a statement Tuesday that in some cases of the period, the wife would be sacrificed when her husband died and buried with him. However, the statement stressed that ''at the current stage of research'' there is no evidence that this is what happened to Mantua pair.

After undergoing lab tests the couple will be displayed together at Mantua's Archaeological Museum, the statement said.

The discovery was made in a region rich in Neolithic treasures, including some 30 burial sites, all single, as well as the remains of prosperous villages filled with artifacts made of flint, pottery and animal horns.