123. Skeletons At Roopkund

23 May

1942, India; A group of British Forest guards patrolled 16,000 feet above sea level in the area around Roopkund, all was orderly and calm until they made a most disturbing find. They were passing a small valley, at the bottom of it was a frozen lake. In the relative summer heat it was melting. Releasing its contents slowly. The small lake was filled with bodies, the further the ice melted the more bodies which appeared. 200 bodies were found in all, something horrible had happened there and many people tried to find out exactly what it was.

1942 was of course during World War II so the first logical leap was to assume the bodies to be those of Japanese soldiers. This was not the case. The bodies were preserved down to a few stray pieces of hair, flesh and of course a plethora of bones. They were too decomposed, and the bones not fresh enough. With them also were rings, spears, bamboo staves and leather sandals. These were much older than the war. How old though?

That question took a great deal of time to answer. In the intervening time theories emerged as to what could possibly cause 200 people to die at the same time. These theories ranged from an Epidemic to ritual suicide. The answer was not to be revealed until after an expedition 62 years later, in 2004.

DNA samples from some of the 200 bodies showed them all to date to approximately 850 AD, whilst the DNA evidence showed two groups of people, one was a family or group of closely related people, whilst the other groups DNA much more closely resembled the DNA of locals, suggesting that the second group had been hired as guides and porters. The most likely story suggests that the closely related group were on a pilgrimage and were traveling with the help of locals, they were passing by the frozen Roopkund Lake when the incident occurred.

Figuring out exactly what the incident was the next part. Closer examination of the bodies showed that they all died in the same way. All 200 from damage to their skulls, but not from any weapon, the short cracks in their skulls suggested something much rounder. In fact none of the injuries occurred beneath shoulder level, as if some terrific blows had been rained down from up high.

Researchers struggled with the problem until they heard a single folk song. An ancient and traditional Himalayan song which spoke of a goddess and intruders who trespassed upon her lands. So enraged was the goddess that she rained death upon them by flinging hailstones as hard as iron. The evidence was considered and the song carefully studied. Then consensus was reached, the song was correct.

About the hailstones, not the angry goddess. The 200 died a bizarre and sudden death. Whilst at the bottom of the valley a freak hailstorm emerged above, raining down hailstones that must have been the size of cricket-balls. Stuck in the bottom of the valley there was no shelter to which they could all flee. So they died, 200 in quick succession, each struck a swift blow on the head by the cruel hand of nature. Their remains surrounded the lake and eventually were swallowed by it until they were rediscovered 1,200 years later. A bizarre blizzard massacre.

Sandal and Skeleton on the shore

Of course there may have been a survivor, a sole survivor or many. Someone to crawl out of that valley and tell the story of the angry goddess and the hailstones of iron which did so dangerously fall.

Someone to give rise to the songs. Someone who unwittingly would help solve one of the oldest murder mysteries of all time, the mystery of the frozen skeleton lake. Without them we would only have skeletons, speculation and 1,200 year old leather sandals.

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Posted by on May 23, 2011 in Articles


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