Skeletons at Roopkund lake have Mediterranean origins, reveals study

Scientists suspect that skeletal remains of 400-600 individuals are scattered around the shores of Roopkund lake   | Photo Credit: Pramod Joglekar

For many years, heaps of skeletons and ice-preserved bodies of men and women scattered in and around the Roopkund Lake shores in the Himalayas has flummoxed scientists and anthropologists. Was it because of a war? Was it a natural disaster or an epidemic? Or did a pilgrimage to Nanda Devi shrine went wrong due to harsh weather or landslides were among various hypothesis that were being offered.

While it still remains a mystery, scientists at CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) have found that the skeleton remains found at the lake not only have Indian but Mediterranean origins after a genomic study.

Evidence of the people of South East Asia like the Chinese or the Vietnamese too have been found after a 10-year internationally-collaborated research, said CCMB director Rakesh Mishra and chief scientist K. Thangaraj addressing a press conference here on Tuesday.

Chief scientist K. Thangaraj addressing the media in Hyderabad on Tuesday. CCMB director Rakesh Mishra is also seen.

Chief scientist K. Thangaraj addressing the media in Hyderabad on Tuesday. CCMB director Rakesh Mishra is also seen.  


Skeletal remains at the lake, which is five km above the sea level and stays frozen 11 months a year, was originally found in the 1950s, but due to the treacherous terrain as it takes five days of trek to reach it, scientists could only gather the bones much later.

And of the estimated 500 bones, scientists gathered and studied mitochondrial and nuclei DNA sequencing of 72 when they found that while most turned out to be Indians but of different groups, other group showed to be of Greece and Crete island ancestry and one individual of South East Asia.

“This is what we found out using our ancient DNA lab here and with expertise elsewhere. There could be remains of people from other origins too if more bones are studied,” said Dr. Thangaraj. The most probable reason for the presence of skeletons and bodies there could be a mishap during pilgrimage to the Nanda Devi shrine as no weapons are found at the site, that rules out any war, and no bacteria was found, which means deaths were not due to any epidemic.

Radio carbon dating of the bones showed that deaths were about 1,000 years apart. If Indians had died in 7-9th centuries, other groups arrived during 17-19th centuries. “But why were Mediterranean people at the lake is not yet known,” he added.

Former CCMB director Lalji Singh, Niraj Rai, scientist at Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences (Lucknow), David Reich, Harvard Medical School (U.S.), are among the chief collaborators for the study. It has been published in Nature Communications and can be found online at http://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-11357-9.

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Printable version | Jul 21, 2021 12:12:14 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/skeletal-remains-at-roopkund-lake-have-mediterranean-origins/article29184742.ece

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