Himalayas' 'Skeleton Lake' Investigated with DNA Testing and the Results Are Weird

"Skeleton Lake" is home to hundreds of skeletal remains that date back to at least the 7th century

Roopkund lake
Photo: Getty

Roopkund Lake, located in the Indian Himalayas and aptly known as “Skeleton Lake” is proving to be one of the most mysterious landmarks in the world.

Sitting over three miles above sea level, the lake is home to hundreds of skeletons, some with flesh still attached, that are scattered across the 135-foot area. Over time, scientists theorized that the skeletons all died in a single catastrophic event over 1,000 years ago, likely an epidemic.

However, a recent study conducted by scientists in India, America and Germany has proven that theory wrong, and instead presents a new, grim history of “Skeleton Lake.”

The study, published by Nature Communications on Tuesday, examined DNA from 38 of the remains and found that they didn’t all die at once. Instead, the scientists found that the “one mass dumping of the dead” they predicted actually happened numerous times, spread out across a millennium.

Researchers extracted DNA from dozens of the skeletal remains within the lake and successfully identified 23 males and 15 females.

From there, the study concluded that the individuals identified fit into one of three distinct genetic groups — 23 of them, both males and females, had South Asian ancestries, and likely ended up dead at the lake between the 7th and 10th centuries, although not at once.

The study then found traces of two more genetic groups that likely appeared in the lake between the 17th and 20th centuries. One individual had East Asian-related ancestry, while 14 were of eastern Mediterranean ancestry.

However, researchers were unable to find the cause of death for the remains, although hypothesized that the difficult high altitude could have been a factor.

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“It’s hard to believe that each individual died in exactly the same way,” theorized Éadaoin Harney, a doctoral student at Harvard and the lead author on the study.

None of the identified remains were related and were diverse in terms of age and population groups. Chemical signatures found that the victims had extremely diverse diets, as well.

While exactly where the ill-fated visitors came from may forever remain a mystery, the theory exists that they were a part of a pilgrimage that would cross near the lake, dating all the way back to the 16th century. It’s entirely possible that those individuals continuously visited the lake over time, only to end up a part of the ominous skeletal collection.

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