The Mystery of Hindu ‘Skeleton Lake’ Gets Deeper (Post No.6909)

Icy Roopkund Lake
Location of Roopkund Lake

COMPILED BY LONDON SWAMINATHAN


swami_48@yahoo.com

 Date: 21 AUGUST 2019  

British Summer Time uploaded in London – 7-13 am

Post No. 6909

 Pictures are taken from various sources.  ((posted by swamiindology.blogspot.com AND tamilandvedas.com))

Hundreds of skeletons are scattered around a site high in the Himalayas, and a new study overturns a leading theory about how they got there.

Science magazines around the world have published today (21-8-2019) the latest results of their studies about the Hindu Mystery Lake in the Himalayas.

I have collected the details from various reports.

The Roopkund lake at an altitude of 16,500 ft in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand has hundreds of ancient human skeletons around its shores.

Untangling a few knots on the enigmatic skeleton lake mystery, scientists on Tuesday reported that people belonging to three distinct ethnicities — Indians, Greeks and a lone South East Asian individual — travelled to the icy lake in the Himalayas

The Roopkund lake at an altitude of 16,500 ft in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand remains a puzzle to science for more than 60 years, with barely any explanations about hundreds of ancient human skeletons around its shores

XXXX

skeletons in icy lake

Biomolecular analyses of Roopkund skeletons show Mediterranean migrants in Indian Himalaya

A large-scale study conducted by an international team of scientists has revealed that the mysterious skeletons of Roopkund Lake—once thought to have died during a single catastrophic event—belong to genetically highly distinct groups that died in multiple periods in at least two episodes separated by 1000 years. The study, published this week in Nature Communications, involved an international team of 28 researchers from institutions in India, the United States and Europe.

Situated at over 5000 meters above sea level in the Himalayan Mountains of India, Roopkund Lake has long puzzled researchers due to the presence of skeletal remains from several hundred ancient humans, scattered in and around the lake‘s shores, earning it the nickname Skeleton Lake or Mystery Lake.

“Roopkund Lake has long been subject to speculation about who these individuals were, what brought them to Roopkund Lake, and how they died,” says senior author Niraj Rai, of the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences in Lucknow, India, who began working on the Roopkund skeletons when he was a post-doctoral scientist at the CSIR Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad, India.

The current publication, the final product of a more than decade-long study that presents the first whole genome ancient DNA data from India, reveals that the site has an even more complex history than imagined.

xxx

800 skeletons may be there

First ancient DNA data from India shows diverse groups at Roopkund Lake

Ancient DNA obtained from the skeletons of Roopkund Lake—representing the first ancient DNA ever reported from India—reveals that they derive from at least three distinct genetic groups.

“We first became aware of the presence of multiple distinct groups at Roopkund after sequencing the mitochondrial DNA of 72 skeletons. While many of the individuals possessed mitochondrial haplogroups typical of present-day Indian populations, we also identified a large number of individuals with haplogroups that would be more typical of populations from West Eurasia,” says co-senior author Kumarasamy Thangaraj of CCMB, who started the project more than a decade ago, in an ancient DNA clean lab that he and then-director of CCMB Lalji Singh (deceased) built to study Roopkund.

Whole-genome sequencing of 38 individuals revealed that there were at least three distinct groups among the Roopkund skeletons.

1.The first group is composed of 23 individuals with ancestries that are related to people from present-day India, who do not appear to belong to a single population, but instead derived from many different groups.

2.Surprisingly, the second largest group is made up of 14 individuals with ancestry that is most closely related to people who live in the eastern Mediterranean, especially present-day Crete and Greece.

3. A third individual has ancestry that is more typical of that found in Southeast Asia. “We were extremely surprised by the genetics of the Roopkund skeletons. The presence of individuals with ancestries typically associated with the eastern Mediterranean suggests that Roopkund Lake was not just a site of local interest, but instead drew visitors from across the globe,” says first author Éadaoin Harney of Harvard University.

XXX

skeletons of three ethnic groups

In a kinder world, archaeologists would study only formal cemeteries, carefully planned and undisturbed.

But such an ideal burial ground wouldn’t have the eerie appeal of Skeleton Lake in Uttarakhand, India, where researchers suspect the bones of as many as 500 people lie. The lake, which is formally known as Roopkund, is miles above sea level in the Himalayas and sits along the route of the Nanda Devi Raj Jat, a famous festival and pilgrimage. Bones are scattered throughout the site: Not a single skeleton found so far is intact.

HOW DID THEY FIND IT?

Since a forest ranger stumbled across the ghostly scene during World War II, explanations for why hundreds of people died there have abounded. These unfortunates were invading Japanese soldiers; they were an Indian army returning from war; they were a king and his party of dancers, struck down by a righteous deity. A few years ago, a group of archaeologists suggested, after inspecting the bones and dating the carbon within them, that the dead were travelers caught in a lethal hailstorm around the ninth century.

In a new study published today in Nature Communications, an international team of more than two dozen archaeologists, geneticists, and other specialists dated and analyzed the DNA from the bones of 37 individuals found at Roopkund. They were able to suss out new details about these people, but if anything, their findings make the story of this place even more complex. The team determined that the majority of the deceased indeed died 1,000 or so years ago, but not simultaneously. And a few died much more recently, likely in the early 1800s. Stranger still, the skeletons’ genetic makeup is more typical of Mediterranean heritage than South Asian.

“It may be even more of a mystery than before,” says David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard and one of the senior authors of the new paper. “It was unbelievable, because the type of ancestry we find in about a third of the individuals is so unusual for this part of the world.”

Roopkund is the sort of place archaeologists call “problematic” and “extremely disturbed.” Mountaineers have moved and removed the bones and, researchers suspect, most of the valuable artifacts. Landslides probably scattered the skeletons, too. Miriam Stark, an archaeologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa who was not involved in the research, pointed out that, unlike most archaeological sites, Roopkund is “not within a cultural context,” like a religious site or even a battlefield. That makes the new study “a really useful case study of how much information you can milk” from an imperfect data set, she says.

From a scientific standpoint, the only convenient thing about Roopkund is its frigid environment, which preserved not only the bones, but the DNA inside them, and even, in some cases, bits of clothing and flesh. That same environment can make the site difficult to study.

Veena Mushrif-Tripathy, an archaeologist at Deccan College in Pune, India, was part of an expedition to Roopkund in 2003. She says that even at base camp, which was about 2,300 feet below the lake, the weather was dangerous and turned quickly. To reach Roopkund, the party had to climb to a ridge above the lake and then slide down to it, because the slopes surrounding the lake are so steep.

Mushrif-Tripathy never actually reached the lake; she was stuck at base camp with altitude sickness. “That was one of my biggest … regrets,” she says. “Still today, I am not over that.”

As Fernando Racimo, a geneticist at the University of Copenhagen, points out, ancient-DNA studies commonly focus on the global movements of human populations over thousands of years. The new study, in contrast, is “a nice example of how ancient-DNA studies could not only inform us about major migration events,” Racimo says, “but it can also tell smaller stories that would have not been possible to elucidate otherwise.” Stark says that seeing geneticists and archaeologists collaborating to ask nuanced questions is refreshing. “A lot of the time it seems like the geneticists are just performing a service,” she says, to prove the hunches of anthropologists or historical linguists about where a specimen really came from. “And that’s not what we should be asking.”

To Kathleen Morrison, the chair of the anthropology department at the University of Pennsylvania, the least interesting thing about the specimens at Roopkund is where in the world their DNA says they came from. She points out that a Hellenic kingdom existed in the Indian subcontinent for about 200 years, beginning in 180 b.c. “The fact that there’s some unknown group of Mediterranean European people is not really a big revelation,” she says. She also cautions that radiocarbon dating gets less and less accurate the closer specimens get to the present day, so the early-1800s date assigned to the Roopkund specimens with Mediterranean heritage might not be perfectly accurate.

Besides, knowing that some of the bones at Roopkund came from a slightly unusual population still doesn’t shake the fundamental mystery: how hundreds of people’s remains ended up at one remote mountain lake. Reich and Mushrif-Tripathy are both confident that the skeletons were not moved to the site. Mushrif-Tripathy believes that the people whose bones she helped study simply “lost their way” and “got stuck” near the lake during bad weather. As Reich points out, it’s possible that remains scattered around the area gradually fell into the lake during landslides.

Morrison, though, doesn’t fully buy this explanation. “I suspect that they’re aggregated there, that local people put them in the lake,” she says. “When you see a lot of human skeletons, usually it’s a graveyard.”

XXX

Nobody Knows Why Hundreds of People Died at This Creepy Himalayan Lake

Hundreds of people mysteriously died over a millennium at “Skeleton Lake” in the Himalayas according to a new study, making the creepy location even more mysterious.

A small glacial lake nestled in the world’s highest mountain range is the site of hundreds of unexplained deaths spanning more than 1,000 years, according to a new study.

Roopkund Lake, also known as “Skeleton Lake” because it is cluttered with human bones, has perplexed visitors for decades. Located over 16,400 feet above sea level in the Indian Himalayas, it was rediscovered during the 1940s by a forest ranger. But the shallow lake was clearly known to ancient travelers, many of whom never made it out alive.

Nobody knows what killed all these people at such a remote location. Until now, the leading theory was that a brutal hailstorm pummelled all of the travelers to death at the same time around 800 CE in a single catastrophic event, which might explain the unhealed compression fractures found on some of the bones. While deadly hail may account for some of the fatalities, new evidence strongly suggests that these people met their deaths in multiple different events at the lake across the centuries.

In a study published on Tuesday in Nature Communications, a team led by Éadaoin Harney, a PhD student in evolutionary biology at Harvard University, analyzed DNA extracted from 38 skeletons. This analysis revealed that many different populations experienced mortal incidents at the lake, including one that occurred as late as the 19th century.

“We find that the Roopkund skeletons belong to three genetically distinct groups that were deposited during multiple events, separated in time by approximately 1,000 years,” Harney’s team said in the study. “These findings refute previous suggestions that the skeletons of Roopkund Lake were deposited in a single catastrophic event.”

The earliest group of deceased travellers identified by the researchers, called Roopkund_A, contained 23 men and women from a diverse range of South Asian ancestries. This population was already known to have perished some 1,200 years ago, but radiocarbon dating showed that their deaths were likely not caused by a single violent storm as previously proposed.

Some of the Roopkund_A individuals were dated to earlier ranges of about 675-769 CE, while others were dated to between 894-985 CE. The gap in time suggests “that even these individuals may not have died simultaneously,” the team said.

Even more astonishing is the discovery of a second population, called Roopkund_B, which died just centuries ago, around 1800. This group contained 14 men and women of eastern Mediterranean descent, who were most genetically similar to the people of present-day Crete, the largest of the Greek islands. The third population is comprised of a sole individual, called Roopkund_C, who was a man of East Asian descent that died at the same time as the Roopkund_B group.

“Our study deepens the Roopkund mystery in many ways,” said study co-author Niraj Rai, head of the Ancient DNA Lab at Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences in India, in an email. At the same time, the team was able to rule out common “speculations about the ancestry of Roopkund individuals,” Rai said.

For instance, since the 1950s, there has been a local theory that the skeletons were left by the fleeing army of general Zorawar Singh Kahluria, who was killed in an attempted invasion of Tibet in 1841. This explanation is challenged by the new discovery of several women at the site, who were unlikely to have been included in a military expedition.

The hailstorm theory is still plausible for some of the victims, and the team plans to examine the fractured skulls in their next study, Rai said.

Still, we don’t know how these groups ended up at such an inaccessible location in the first place. Roopkund Lake lies on the route of the Nanda Devi Raj Jat, a Hindu pilgrimage, which may have been observed as early as 1,200 years ago. For now, that is the most plausible explanation for the presence of at least some of the Roopkund_A individuals, the team said.

The remains of the other populations are much harder to explain. The study concludes that the Mediterranean individuals, who did not seem to have close familial ties to each other, were probably born under Ottoman rule.

“As suggested by their consumption of a predominantly terrestrial, rather than marine-based diet, they may have lived in an inland location, eventually traveling to and dying in the Himalayas,” the team said. “Whether they were participating in a pilgrimage, or were drawn to Roopkund Lake for other reasons, is a mystery.”

“Mystery” seems to be the operative word for anything to do with Roopkund Lake. While the site has become a destination for researchers and tourists—who have lived to tell the tale of their visits—the secrets of those who never left remain largely unknown.

Xxx

Himalayan Lake Mystery

ANOTHER REPORT—800 SKELETONS

DNA study deepens mystery of lake full of skeletons

Hundreds of bodies at Roopkund Lake belonged to pilgrims who perished in a Himalayan storm more than a thousand years ago—or so researchers thought.

Roopkund, a remote lake high in the Indian Himalaya, is home to one of archaeology’s spookiest mysteries: the skeletons of as many as 800 people. Now, a study published today in Nature Communications attempts to unravel what happened at “Skeleton Lake”—but the results raise more questions than answers.

In the early 2000s, preliminary DNA studies had suggested that the people who died at Roopkund were of South Asian ancestry, and radiocarbon dates from around the site cluster at 800 A.D., a sign that they all died in a single event.

Now, full genomic analyses from 38 sets of skeletal remains upend that story. The new results show that there were 23 people with south Asian ancestry at Roopkund, but they died during one or several events between the 7th and 10th centuries A.D. What’s more, the Roopkund skeletons contain another group of 14 victims who died there a thousand years later—likely in a single event.

And unlike the later South Asian skeletons, the earlier group at Roopkund had a genetic ancestry tied to the Mediterranean—Greece and Crete, to be exact. (An additional individual, who died at the same time as the Mediterranean group, had east Asian ancestry.) None of the tested individuals were related to each other, and additional isotopic studies confirm that the South Asian and Mediterranean groups ate different diets.

Why was a Mediterranean group at Roopkund, and how did they meet their end? Researchers don’t know and aren’t speculating.

—subham—

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: