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Recent work has disclosed the critical role played by enamel peptides in sex classification of old skeletal remains. In particular, protein AMELY (amelogenin isoform Y) is present in the enamel dental tissue of male individuals only, while AMELX (isoform X) can be found in both sexes. AMELY can be easily detected by LC-MS/MS in the ion extracted chromatograms of the SM(ox)IRPPY peptide (monoisotopic [M + 2 H]+2 mass = 440.2233 m/z). In this paper, we exploited the dimorphic features of the amelogenin protein to determine the sex of the so-called 'Lovers of Modena', two Late Antique individuals whose skeletons were intentionally buried hand-in-hand. Upon discovery, mass media had immediately assumed they were a male-female couple, even if bad preservation of the bones did not allow an effective sex classification. We were able to extract proteins from the dental enamel of both individuals (~1600 years old) and to confidently classify them as males. Results were compared to 14 modern and archaeological control samples, confirming the reliability of the ion chromatogram method for sex determination. Although we currently have no information on the actual relationship between the 'Lovers of Modena' (affective? Kin-based?), the discovery of two adult males intentionally buried hand-in-hand may have profound implications for our understanding of funerary practices in Late Antique Italy.


Federico Lugli, Giulia Di Rocco, Antonino Vazzana, Filippo Genovese, Diego Pinetti, Elisabetta Cilli, Maria Cristina Carile, Sara Silvestrini, Gaia Gabanini, Simona Arrighi, Laura Buti, Eugenio Bortolini, Anna Cipriani, Carla Figus, Giulia Marciani, Gregorio Oxilia, Matteo Romandini, Rita Sorrentino, Marco Sola, Stefano Benazzi. Enamel peptides reveal the sex of the Late Antique 'Lovers of Modena'. Scientific reports. 2019 Sep 11;9(1):13130

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PMID: 31511583

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