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Study to Solve 'Skeleton Lake' Mystery Only Adds to It

Site in Himalayas is home to hundreds of remains from different times, places
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 22, 2019 7:50 AM CDT
Stock photo of the Indian Himalayas.   (Getty/Dushyant Kumar Thakur)

(Newser) – The official name is Roopkund Lake, but the inhospitable site in the Indian Himalayas is better known as "Skeleton Lake" for good reason. Scientists estimate the remains of "several hundred" people are scattered around its shores, explains a study in Nature Communications. New research aimed to resolve once and for all who these people were—but the findings have only added to the mystery, reports the New York Times. It turns out they came from different parts of the world and died at different times. The researchers studied 38 skeletal parts, and the breakdown is as follows: 23 came from South Asia and date back roughly to the year 800; the other 15 died more recently, perhaps about 1800, and, curiously, all but one apparently came from the eastern Mediterranean. The last came from Southeast Asia.

"It may be even more of a mystery than before," says Harvard geneticist David Reich, one of the co-authors, per the Atlantic. "It was unbelievable, because the type of ancestry we find in about a third of the individuals is so unusual for this part of the world," he adds, referring to those from the Mediterranean. One researcher thinks the skeletons are those of travelers who got lost or stuck in bad weather; Reich posits that they were deposited there in landslides over the years; still a third thinks both those theories are off and that bodies were deliberately brought to the lake by locals who used it as a graveyard. At Atlas Obscura, yet another scientist notes that the DNA results came from just 38 people; with hundreds of bones there, more regions and historical periods may yet turn up. (The Himalayas recently claimed more modern victims.)

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