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Deccan Herald » National » Full Story

National Geographic expo solves Roopkund skeleton mystery

Vital information is now available on the origin of the hundreds of skeletons found in the vicinity of the Roopkund lake in the Garhwal Himalayas.



A 1,200-year-old mystery high in the Himalayas has provided the perfect platform for the National Geographic Channel (NGC) to create what it calls the “jewel in the crown” in its latest high-profile series called “Forensic Investigation Report (FIR)”.

“Skeleton Lake” produced by Miditech Pvt Ltd of the award-winning brothers Niret and Nikhil Alva, unravels the mystery behind the hundreds of skeletons strewn around the Roopkund Lake in the Garhwal Himalayas at a height of over 16,000 feet, with nobody having a clue about their origin or the reason for their death until the NGC-funded expedition collected hundreds of samples of the remains from the spot.

To be telecast on November 9, the episode, directed by Chandramouli Basu and written by the Alva brothers, follows the expedition headed by German cultural anthropologist Dr William Sax and comprising forensic scientist Prof Rakesh Bhatt of Garhwal University, palaeopathologist Dr Pramod Joglekar of Deccan College (Pune) and geologist Dr M P S Bhist.

While this is not the first time that an expedition has been organised to Roopkund, this is the first instance when a conclusion has been reached, at least on the part of the mystery.

“More importantly, this is the first time that scientific evidence coincides with the local legends about the human remains in the lake area, which is a very significant thing in terms of cultural anthropology,” says Dr Sax.

While the expedition and the subsequent tests have proved the cause of the death of the people in an incident estimated to have occurred around 1,200 years ago, scientific tests are still going on in various institutions around the world, including the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (Hyderabad) and Oxford University, to find out the origin of these people.

“We followed the process of scientific elimination from among all the theories about the mystery to arrive at the conclusion about the nature of the incident that killed so many people,” says Dr Sax.

Interestingly, since the completion of the episode, Mr Basu says, it has been proved through DNA tests that some of the skeletons belonged to Brahmins from the Konkan region of Maharashtra. 

For the record, this is the only Indian episode in the initial eight parts of the series premiering on November 1, though NGC says more Indian content in it is likely later in the series currently billed for 39 episodes. “We know there were at least two communities of people there, but exactly how many more, we are yet to know,” he says.

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