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Hundreds of people died over a millennium at “Skeleton Lake” in the Himalayas (vice.com)
114 points by prawn 57 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 56 comments



If you are lost high in the zone, water is precious. So, lost people would tend to congregate near water, thats a basic survival outcome. The commonality of head wound, across a long time window argues for something which is more likely to persist over long times.

So, I go with yeti favoured a head-shot, and only predated on lonely travellers high near the lake as the least-likely outcome.

Every archeology program made by the BBC says "ritual" so there's that. Maybe blunt force trauma from a long tibetan horn? Or blunt force trauma for playing the long tibetan horn?


>Maybe blunt force trauma from a long tibetan horn? Or blunt force trauma for playing the long tibetan horn?

Related: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggFqJgHPFfU


>> "hundreds of unexplained deaths spanning more than 1,000 years, according to a new study."

Id imagine theres quite a few places on earth that would tick that box :) Semi-relatedly, theres a 4000 year old dolmen close to my house and lying beside it is a ~200 year old broken grave stone. Its' suspected that there was a mistake during carving of the gravestone and hypothesised the stonemason left it near the Dolmon as they attached some spiritual significance to the place, albeit without religious (catholic) significance.

Sometimes places just become the "something" place, even over long periods of time. This could be the "dump the bodies" place.


>Semi-relatedly, theres a 4000 year old dolmen close to my house and lying beside it is a ~200 year old broken grave stone

If your cat ever dies, it might worth the experiment to bury it there...


It’s not exactly a convenient location to haul bodies to. For example, the lead author in one of the papers reporting this was unable to visit the site personally; she was kept at base camp with altitude sickness for the duration of the site visit.

Reporting notes that normally when you find a lot of bodies you’ve found a graveyard, but this site seems different enough from normal to warrant a second look.


Convenience might not be the most significant drive - it could have been for example a sacred place (like Muktinath in Nepal located on Annapurna circuit, 3800m high) or any other reason not clear after hundreds of years. Look at India - people go to great lengths to cremate their beloved ones in Varanasi ghats, often travelling > 1000km with corpse (seen it on train from Delhi myself)


It seems unlikely that a group of Ottomans, and what might be their local guide, would end up being interred at such a place though. Why would they want to be interred at a Tibetan ritual site? Or why would anyone there want to inter them that way, but not anyone else in the last few hundred years? The pattern looks all wrong.


How is the corpse transported? Open air, Sunday best? Or are they hauling around a coffin?


Weekend at Bernie's style


The lake appears to have glaciers in the neighborhood. Could it be that the skeletons belong to people who died on a glacier and were deposited near the lake during subsequent expansion & contraction periods?


Wouldn’t that crush the bones? Also if that were the case wouldn’t they be more spread out?


> Wouldn’t that crush the bones?

Otzi wasn't overly crushed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ötzi#/media/File:OetzitheIcema...

I imagine it'd depend on the glacier, but yeah.


Otzi's body wasn't moved by the ice. He was just frozen in place, then thawed.


In the wikipedia article it actually says that there is a theory that his body was placed on a nearby burial mound and moved by the ice to the location were he was found but:

> While archaeobotanist Klaus Oeggl of the University of Innsbruck agrees that the natural process described probably caused the body to move from the ridge that includes the stone formation, he pointed out that the paper provided no compelling evidence to demonstrate that the scattered stones constituted a burial platform


Many fractures are there according to the article - though I’m unsure if a post mortem fracture can be distinguished from one that happened just prior to death in a skeleton hundreds of years old.


> a post mortem fracture can be distinguished from one that happened just prior to death

My understanding is that ante mortem and post mortem fractures can be distinguished by bone marrow oedema. Presumably, if the post is an extremely long period and there's no bone marrow present, then there would be other substantially different fracture patterns.


If the skeletons all died from the same injury, a blow to the back of the head, and were killed over a period of time, why isn't the most obvious answer that this lake was a religious site and these people killed in a religious ceremony? It's not like sacrificing captives, slaves, and members of one's own people was uncommon.


But "religious or ceremonial" is archaeology's cop out.

According to article, the skeletons had compression fractures, consistent with blunt-force injury (as by hailstorm), and analysis of the skulls is planned for the next study.

I'd rule out banditry, military action, natural geological or weather events, and poisoning first.


The Wikipedia article offers more information. Two groups, one dating from ~9th c CE, the 2nd about 200 years ago.

Even if the earlier set of skeletons were from several different dates or years, the possiblity that this was some sort of travel route and local sheltering spot, with as noted, hail-induced fatalities, seems plausible.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roopkund


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roopkund

"The studies of the skeletons revealed a common cause of death: blows to the back of the head, caused by round objects falling from above. The researchers concluded that the victims had been caught in a sudden hailstorm, just as described in the local legends and songs."


"Until now, the leading theory was that a brutal hailstorm pummelled all of the travelers to death at the same time around 800 CE in a single catastrophic event, which might explain the unhealed compression fractures found on some of the bones. While deadly hail may account for some of the fatalities, new evidence strongly suggests that these people met their deaths in multiple different events at the lake across the centuries."


> new evidence strongly suggests that these people met their deaths in multiple different events at the lake across the centuries.

If the area's geography and location makes it prone to violent hailstorms, I would think that those might simply be multiple hailstorms across the centuries.

Certainly I would personally keep an eye on the weather if I ever happen to visit.


If there are violent hailstorms, judging from the photos on Wikipedia it isn't a good place to catch them: zero cover and a high likelyhood to fall and/or run downhill onto the edge of the lake causing a concentration of dead bodies.


Could still be several violent hailstorms. A thousand years is long enough for a regionally periodic weather pattern to recur and coincide with the presence of a group of travellers.



Probably a limnic eruption. Or multiple of those.


That was my first thought but I doubt it's possible with a lake that's an average of 2m deep. I'd still suspect some sort of gas release though, from pictures it looks like it's surrounded on all sides so CO2 releases couldn't escape.


And the lake is in the very deep depression. If there was a release of something much heavier than air, it will congest there, and traumas can be post mortem


The low air pressure of the high altitude could also play a role.


Doesn't seem like that would explain the trauma


I'd not heard of limnic eruptions until now. They seem interesting and terrifying.


I was hoping the article would touch on that possibility.


I wonder how the Mediterranean people go there? That seems stranger than the manner of death.


Actually not. Even if it was a lot rarer for people in the past to travel long distances, it is not that it just never happened. There were Indian people in classical Greece, at least one commander of Roman Britain was from North Africa, and traders always moved all over the place.


Also the early 1800s was an era of extensive European exploration and colonial interest in the region. By that time Britain dominated India and Russia was contending with them for Afghanistan in the 'Great Game'.

It's really not surprising to find people from the eastern Mediterranean anywhere in Asia over the last thousand years. We know there was a Nestorian Christian community in China in the 13th Century and several of them had diplomatic roles under the Khanate.

See below, but that whole article is worth reading. Did you know there was an official Catholic Archbishop of Beijing in the 14th Century?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Europeans_in_Medieval_China#Di...


Imagine the legend of "hidden Greek kingdom" in Pamir is true


Thank you for mentioning that fascinating tidbit of history [1]. The linked article badly needs formatting, but the content is interesting nonetheless.

[1] http://www.ekathimerini.com/16146/article/ekathimerini/news/...


There was an extensive pre-Roman commerce between the Mediterranian and at least the Indian subcontinent, if not China.

And Rome traded directly with China. Each empire was aware of the other. See Kyle Harper's The Fate of Rome for numerous consequences of this (particularly of disease and epidemiology).


Agree


No it's not.

Actually during time of first emperor in Asia, we've proof of European DNA present at the sites were terracotta army was made.

Secondly, if you go to north India - you find plenty of people with European features (mostly Greek features to be specific)

People knew about India and if they did come to India, it would have been impossible to not hear about Himalayas.


I have been there , after 5 days of trek . It goes through two beautiful meadows


That sounds really interesting. If you're willing to share photos, I would really love to see them. Thank you.



Not OP, but I too have been to the lake. It is India's most famous trek and quite a lot of people head up there every year. I don't have my images uploaded anywhere but you may find the information here[1] useful.

[1] https://indiahikes.com/roopkund/

Edit: Seems like the trek has been put on hold for the time being.


Does the article say they are sure they died there? If so, I think I missed it. Or maybe some did, and others were taken there? To die? Or were already dead?

There can't be that many roads / trails thought that area. So if they bottleneck at the point then perhaps the water from time to time goes bad? If some of them "lost it" (mentally) from the water then perhaps that explains the cracked skulls?


Other aspect is, ice cover would of been greater in the period a few hundred years ago, let alone longer. So has the possibility that these are the remnants of a past glacier melting and depositing these bones - has that been ruled out?

As for losing is (mentally) - mad honey was more of an issue back in history than today. So could see how some village feast/celebration/`ritual` may of played out with this given Nepal is noted in history as having issues with it and less than 30km from this site.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grayanotoxin#Mad_honey_intoxic...


Hauling corpses long distances through high, rugged terrain, only to deposit them randomly around a lake is ... somehow unlikely.


I'd like to say I agree. But look at all the massive pyramids built throughout the world. Hauling _____ long distances seems somewhat a non-issue.


Other than the largish rockpile at the end, most material for pyramids was moved relatively short distances and largely via water (boats/barges). Probably on rollers on dry land, AFAIU.

And gathering up large teams when you're the world's largest^WONLY civilisation, in the most fertile river valley the world has ever known, is somewhat easier than above 4200 metres.

It wouldn't have taken much doing to accumulate a few hundred corpses, mind. Though having them walk under their own power would be easier.


Stonehenge. Etc. Regardless of how, BIG things were being moved.

Also, and perhaps more importantly, the weight and difficulty of a body is a function of the number of people trying to carry it. One person carrying a single body might be a struggle.

But five, ten or twenty people? That wouldn't be a struggle.


Roopkund is at 5,000 meters elevation. 16,470 ft.

That's an altitude at which most people have enough difficulty in dragging their own body. Let alone 100s of others.

Again: the the premise seems quite weak.

The mainstream hypothesis of pilgrims, or very possibly travellers or traders (carrying very light, very valuable goods?) getting caught out in severe weather seems far more probable.


People do far more strange (and difficult) things ritually...


Maybe the lake is a favourite haunt of vultures who bring sky burial bones there.


Bones are not left whole in sky burials. They are ground up manually and mixed with tsampa (roast barley flour) so that vultures can consume them easily.


Intel has a new name idea for a future chipset now


over, seemingly, hundreds of years.




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