High in the Himalayas, on a four- to five-day trek from the nearest village, lies a modest glacial lake called Robkund. The spot is beautiful, and it’s a piece of jewel-colored water amid rough pebbles and pebbles, but it’s not out of the ordinary for a rugged landscape – except for the hundreds of human bones dotted in and around the lake.
These bones, which belong to between 300 and 800 people, have been a mystery since jungle rangers first reported them to the wider world in 1942. But the mystery has deepened in recent times. In 2019, a new genetic analysis of the old one was performed DNA In bone, in detail in the journal Nature Communications, Found that at least 14 people who died in the lake may not have been from South Asia. Instead, their genes match those of modern-day Eastern Mediterranean residents.
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Moreover, these bones were much newer than most of the other bones in the lake, which date back to about 800; People with a distinct Mediterranean heritage seem to have died around the year 1800. So what was a group of the Mediterranean doing over 16,500 feet (5,029 meters) in a far corner of the Himalayas? How did they die?
These questions are at the heart of a New Yorker article By Douglas Preston, as well as prof Post web discussion It is led by Preston University and Princeton anthropologist Augustin Fuentes and hosted by the New Mexico School for Advanced Research.
Robkund’s story illustrates the need for multiple lines of evidence when investigating the past. The bones alone are bewildering: they belong to both men and women, most of them young men, who apparently died in several episodes, possibly over a period of tens or hundreds of years.
Oral accounts experienced by villagers near Robkund provide more light. The lake is on the pilgrimage route to Nanda Devi, a manifestation of the Hindu goddess Parvati. According to local legend, a distant king angered Nanda Devi, causing his kingdom to dry up. To please the goddess, the king set out on a pilgrimage that took him and his entourage to Robkund. But the foolish king brought the dancers and other luxuries on the trip, adding to the anger of Nanda Devi. Legend has it that she summoned a terrible hailstorm and killed the entire party.
This anecdote may not be far from the truth. Some victims at Robkund Hospital suffered skull fractures that appeared to be the result of severe trauma Find the search. The current best guess of what happened to most of the dead? They were caught on the hills above the lake in terrible storms, some of which may have included deadly hail. Most of the victims are likely to have died from exposure and hypothermia; They ended up in and around the lake because their bodies either rolled down the hill or their remains slid down the hillside in the frequent avalanches common on the slope.
An ongoing mystery
However, there is no consensus about what a group of people of clear Mediterranean heritage was doing in such a remote corner of the Himalayas around 1800; Preston said there was no historical record of a long-range expedition to the area at that time.
Fuentes said in a webinar on February 3 that the results point to the limits of ancient DNA analysis. The analysis compared the DNA of the skeletons in the lake with that of modern-day residents. But people have moved so much in over 200 years that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where the dead in the lake came from. Fuentes said they may not have descended directly from the eastern Mediterranean; They could have been close to the Robkund but they shared a common ancestor with the people who ended up living in the eastern Mediterranean.
There is evidence other than DNA that the people in the mysterious group were not like the others who died in the lakes. A 2019 analysis also found that this group had a different diet, with less millet, than people whose genes suggested were originally from South Asia.
One theory is that the mysterious dead in Robkund may have been from an isolated group from Central Asia who hailed from Alexander the Great And his armies. Harvard geneticist David Reich and colleagues wrote in their 2019 paper that the Kalash, an ethnic group in Pakistan, owes some of its ancestors to these invaders. But the mysterious dead do not have genes like the calash, which mix the genetic markers of the eastern Mediterranean with those of southern Asia, and show none of the signs of inbreeding that would have been evident if they had not mixed with the wider south. Asian population around them.
“By combining different lines of evidence, the researchers write,” the data suggests instead that what we sampled was a group of unrelated men and women who were born in the eastern Mediterranean during the period of Ottoman political control. “As their consumption of a diet that is predominantly wild rather than marine suggests, they may have lived in an inland location, and then eventually traveled to and died in the Himalayas. Whether they were participating in a pilgrimage, or were drawn to the Robkund and for other reasons, the lake is A mystery. “
Part of the reason this mystery continues, Preston said, is that Robkund has not been well studied. The lake sits on a relatively popular trekking route, and for decades hikers have moved bones, stacked them, and even stole them. Due to inclement weather and high altitude, systematic studies of the remains and their location have not been conducted.
One day, that might change. In his article for The New Yorker, Preston interviewed Veena Mushrif-Tripathy, a bio-archaeologist at Deccan College in India who hopes to investigate Roopkund scientifically. Tripathi supervisor told Preston that there were likely bodies inside the lake that had not been disturbed. Soft tissues and artifacts may even be preserved in cold water. If researchers could launch such an expedition, they might be able to shed light on the lives of some of those who died in the lake.
Originally published on Live Science.