Human Skeletons of Roopkund Lake

Human Skeletons of Roopkund Lake

In 1942 a British forest guard in Nanda Devi National Park, Roopkund, made an alarming discovery: around and inside a frozen lake, there are a lot of skeletons. In the summer of 1942, the one-month period of ice melting revealed even more skeletons, floating in the water and lying haphazardly around the lake’s edges. Remnants belonging to more than 300 people have been found. Along with the skeletons, wooden artifacts, iron spearheads, leather slippers, and rings were also found. When a team from National Geographic magazine retrieved about 30 skeletons, flesh was still attached to some of them. Geneticists, Niraj Rai along with Manvendra Singh at the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology at Hyderabad, conducted DNA tests on a hundred samples from the lake and compared them to the current Indian population. Results indicated that 70 percent of them had an affinity with Iran, while the remaining belonged to the local population. It is hypothesized that the Iran group took the help of local porters to seek new land for settlement. Later studies placed the time of mass death around the 9th century CE (1,200 years old).

Local legend says that the King of Kanauj, Raja Jasdhaval, with his pregnant wife, Rani Balampa, their servants, a dance troupe and others went on a pilgrimage to Nanda Devi shrine, and the group faced a storm with large hailstones, from which the entire party perished near Roopkund Lake.

What has not been determined is where the group was headed. There is no historical evidence of any trade routes to Tibet in the area, but Roopkund is on an important pilgrimage route of the Nanda Devi cult with Nanda Devi Raj Jat festivities taking place approximately once every twelve years.

Now, scientists believe they have finally solved the mystery of the skeletons: recent finds may lend some support to the local legend mentioned above. In 2013, researchers concluded that it likely that the individuals had been killed in a hail storm. The injuries on the remains indicate that each person was killed by one or more blows to the head, neck, and shoulders. There do not appear to be injuries on any other parts of their bodies, which rules out death by landslide, avalanche, or weapons. As of today, the conclusion that this group of people died due to a severe hail storm remains the most plausible explanation as to what happened to them on their ill-fated journey. However, there has been no verification as to whether this was a group traveling with the king of Kanauj, as legend states.

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