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DNA analysis suggests 160-year-old human skeletons found in Punjab are of Ganga plain martyrs

Volunteers stand behind cases containing human skeletons, believed to be of Indian soldiers, which are on display in the village of Ajnala after they were exhumed from a well in Punjab in 2014. A file photo | Photo Credit: AFP

When a large number of human skeletons were excavated from an old well in Ajnala town of Punjab in early 2014, some historians believed that these skeletons belong to the people killed in riots during the partition of India and Pakistan. The other prevailing belief was these were skeletons of Indian soldiers killed by the British army during the revolt of 1857 in the Indian freedom struggle. 

While the identity and geographic origins of these soldiers have been under intense debate due to lack of scientific evidence, genetic analysis of the remains studied by scientists of the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Birbal Sahni Institute, Lucknow, Benaras Hindu University (BHU) and Punjab University's anthropologist J.S. Sehrawat has now established that these skeletons are of people from the Ganga plain region.

Researchers took 50 samples for DNA analysis and 85 specimens for isotope analysis to establish the roots of these martyrs.

“DNA analysis helps in understanding ancestry of people and isotope analysis sheds light on food habits. These methods showed that the human skeletons found in the well were not of people living in Punjab or Pakistan. Rather, the DNA sequences matched with people from U.P., Bihar and West Bengal,” said chief scientist of CCMB and director of Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics K. Thangaraj on Thursday.

“Results from this research are consistent with the historical evidence that the 26th Native Bengal Infantry Battalion consisted of people from the eastern part of Bengal, Odisha, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, ” said first author of the study J.S. Sehrawat. 

Historical records show that soldiers from this battalion were posted at Mian-Meer, Pakistan, and killed British officers in a revolt. They were later captured by the British army near Ajnala and executed.

Researchers Niraj Rai, Gyaneshwer Chaubey and others said the findings of this study would add a significant chapter in the history of the unsung heroes of India’s first freedom struggle.

“Ancient DNA study is a powerful tool not only to understand our past but also help us in understanding historical perspective,” pointed out CSIR-CCMB director Vinay Kumar Nandicoori. 

The study was published in the latest issue of Frontiers in Genetics, according to a statement.


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Printable version | Apr 28, 2022 9:23:34 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/dna-study-links-human-skeletons-of-indian-soldiers-found-in-punjab-to-gangetic-plain/article65362898.ece