A couple who have been holding hands for 700 years have been uncovered at the ‘lost’ chapel of St Morrell in Leicestershire. Credit: University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS)

A couple who have been holding hands for 700 years has been uncovered at the ‘lost’ chapel of St Morrell in Leicestershire. Credit: University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS)

According to some headlines, this is more than a pair of skeletons lying side by side; this is a couple who ‘Have Been Holding Hands for 700 Years‘.

Except… hold on a second… take a closer look. There’s something funny about this picture. Isn’t there something missing? Something pretty crucial to the story?

I have to admit that, charmed as I was by this tale of two lovers unearthed by the University of Leicester in the lost chapel of Hallaton, it took me a while to spot. But, for all the headlines proclaiming that these two lovebirds were holding hands, well… where in the earth are the aforementioned hands?! Can you spot them? I certainly can’t.

So where are they? Who knows. Maybe they’d already been excavated, hadn’t yet been excavated, or simply didn’t survive. The excavation blog was certainly a little more cautious about it’s claims, simply stating that here lay a man and a woman with their arms crossed. Ah well, we’ll let the press have their field day – holding hands is a lovely story, whatever the tragic tale behind the duo’s death and burial.

The thing is, whatever the reason for the missing hands in this case, hands are pretty useful things to find, not least because it’s where many diseases, like leprosy, tuberculosis and gout, leave their tell-tale marks for bioarchaeologists to find.

Take leprosy, for example. As well as causing some horrible things to happen to the bones of the nose and face, leprosy can be recognised by the concentric loss of bone from the fingers and toes.

Then there’s erosive osteoarthritis, which leaves a gullwing shaped deformity on the finger joints, or psoriatic arthropathy where bone resorption can cause the finger bones to shorten, and leave a distinctive ‘cup and pencil’ sign on x-ray.

Or how about tuberculosis? This can produce cystic lesions in the fingers with bony swellings and cortical erosion. Anyway, enough of the gruesome things that diseases can do to the hands (there are many more to be sure!)

Remembering the names of most of the hand’s 27 bones is pretty easy (metacarpals, carpals and phalanges), but what about all those fiddly little ones in the wrists?Anatomy skeleton hand bones

Scaphoid Lunate Triquetral Pisiform Trapezium Trapezoid Capitate Hamate

They can cause a bit more of a problem when it comes to exam time. Indeed, when I tried to remember them just now, I have to admit, my memory was only triggered when I recalled the infamous mnemonic that gets drummed into the heads of medics, anatomists and bioarchaeologists everywhere:

Some Lovers Try Positions That They Can’t Handle.

Just like, for example, holding hands when there aren’t any hands to be held.

Whoever came up with that mnemonic was perhaps more prescient than they could ever have realised.

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Maiya Pina-Dacier

Head of Community at DigVentures, Maiya digs with a trowel in one hand, and a Twitter feed in the other. She reports on all our discoveries live from the trenches, and keeps our Site Hut full of the latest archaeology news. Got a story? Just drop her a line...

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