A lake in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand once again finds itself a subject of discussion due to the mystery surrounding it. Situated at a height of 16,500 feet above sea level, the ‘Roopkund Lake’ is infamous for skeletons lying beneath the ice in the lake. The skeletons were first reported by a patrolling forest official during the colonial period, back in 1942.
Till date the skeletal remains are said to be of between 600-800 people. But, for over half a century now, anthropologists and scientists have been left deeply puzzled by the skeletons, with some unanswered questions.
Who were the people found buried beneath the ice? How exactly did they die and when? Where did the people come from and why did they come to such a remote place? These are questions that have been bewildering scientists for long.
There are several theories and myths about the whereabouts of the skeletons. One of the theories which has been around for long says that the remains belonged to an Indian king and his wife, children and attendants who perished in a severe hailstorm some 870 years ago.
Another says the remains belonged to soldiers who tried to invade Tibet back in 1841 and were killed in the process while another says they are remains of those who died in an epidemic and were buried there.
However, studies have attempted to decipher what exactly the mystery is about. Earlier studies said that most of those buried there were middle-aged adults with an average age of 35 to 40 years. All of the people were estimated to be of good health and there were no babies or children.
However, more recent studies have hinted towards something else. A Nature publication last year which reportedly came about following a five-year study involving 28 researchers from 16 institutions from India, the US and Germany hinted that none of the previous theories were true.
Scientists analysed the genetic basis of the skeletons and also resorted to carbon dating. Among 38 bodies, which includes 15 women, found at the lake, it was found that some of them were 1,200 years old.
The researchers found that the people were genetically diverse and interestingly, their deaths could have been separated by as much as 1000 years. Eadaoin Harney, the lead author of the research was told the BBC: “It upends any explanations that involved a single catastrophic event that lead to their deaths. It is still not clear what happened at Roopkund Lake, but we can now be certain that the deaths of these individuals cannot be explained by a single event.”
The genetic analysis also revealed something even more interesting — the dead people were of diverse genetic backgrounds, with some belonging to the present-day South Asian population while others had a Mediterranean origin. Also, the South Asian population did not seem to have come from a single population.
The research gives rise to new questions. Why did people from different places travel to the lake over a period of some hundred years? The area also did not come in the way of trade or arms or a weapons route. What then caused the migrations of different people over hundreds of years?
These are the questions that scientists are still finding answers to.