CCMB study presents a new riddle for Historians, Anthropologists

Hyderabad: The study conducted by Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) Hyderabad uncovered that two genetically distinct groups died in at least two episodes separated by a 1,000 years at Roopkund Lake aka Skeleton Lake  located at the bottom of a small valley in the Himalayas in Chamoli district, Uttrakhand whose long luring mystery of over 500 unidentified human skeletal remains unsolved.

Roopkund Lake

The mystery first emerged during the early 20th century when an English man discovered the Roopkund Lake full of skeletons.

“The identity of these skeletons has long been a subject of speculation, and in the meantime, many unscientific hypotheses were presented which had led to the formulation of theories,” said Dr Thangaraj, CCMB Scientist whose decade long genetic research on the skeletal remains found near Roopkund Lake was published in the International Journal Nature Communications Journal on Tuesday.

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Genetic Structure of the Skeletons of Roopkund Lake

Local folklore describes a pilgrimage to the nearby shrine of the mountain goddess, Nanda Devi. It has also been suggested that these are the remains of an army or group of merchants who were caught in a storm. Another view is that they were the victims of an epidemic.

“Our genomic study conducted on 72 bone samples of more than 500 skeletal remains at Roopkund Lake says something otherwise, the prevalence of two clusters, which we classified chronologically,” said Dr Thangaraj.

The study unfolds another Riddle which is to be resolved by the Anthropologists and Historians as the site contains genitally highly distinct groups.

The first incident might have taken place in the 7th century, “as suggests the carbon dating of the skeletal remains, to conclude which the experiment was conducted in a German lab,” said CCMB Director Rakesh Mishra.

“The second incident of mass death is mysterious in itself, the other two groups, likely composed of travellers from the eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asia arrived at Roopkund Lake during 17-20 th centuries,” continued Rakesh Mishra, “The reason for their death or their purpose of arrival is a mystery now to be solved by the historians and anthropologists.”

“We discovered that the history of Roopkund Lake is more complex than we ever anticipated, and raises the striking question of how migrants from the eastern Mediterranean died in this place a few hundred years ago,” said Author and Professor, David Reich of Harvard Medical School, USA.

Radiocarbon and Isotopic Evidence of District Organs of Roopkund Genetic Groups

After sequencing the mitochondrial DNA of 72 skeletons, “We concluded that they belong to 23 males and 15 females, all of them were adults.” Interestingly, Dr Thangaraj added, “Sample study proves that less than 50 percent, 23 of the individuals possessed genetic information typical of present-day Indian populations, and the majority of individuals shows genetic makeup that would be more typical of populations from West Eurasia, Medetarian (Crete and Cyprus) and even far eastern parts of Asia.”

“This study which was concluded at the cost of Rs 1 crore highlights the power of genomics study, coupled with other biomolecular tools, in understanding our past and this study would pave way for analysing a large number of skeletal remains, obtained from different parts of the country,” Rakesh Mishra added.

Authored by Mohammed Hussain

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