Nepal | September 25, 2020

1,200-year-old skeleton found in Upper Mustang


Rajan Pokhrel
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Human Skeleton

Researcher and producer of the Mountain World Productions Jake Norton taking pictures of a 1,200 years old skeleton of a person, in Samdzong, Mustang, on Monday, August 22, 2016. Jake is filming for a one-hour documentary that will air on National Geographic Channel in Nepal about the first people of the Himalayas. Photo Courtesy: Liesl Clark

Kathmandu, September 6

A 1,200-year-old skeleton of a young man was found in a cave tomb in Samdzong in Upper Mustang last month.

“The skeleton is that of an adult male, aged 20-34, and dates back to 800 AD,” lead researcher Mark S Aldenderfer, Dean of the School of Social Sciences at the University of California, told THT.

Age and sex were estimated using methods in Standards for Data Collection from Human Skeletal Remains while genetic sex was estimated by comparing the ratio of DNA sequences aligning to the X and Y chromosomes, Aldenderfer said. “Radiocarbon dating was also used to place their findings in time.”

The team of research scientists included archaeologists, human osteologists, specialists in the analysis of ancient DNA, specialists who examine human genomes and specialists who work with ancient metals and textiles.

The scientists have excavated a number of caves in the region. “We have dated sites that range in time from around 850 BC to 800 AD,” Aldenderfer said.

The Samdzong burial site, discovered in 2010, consists of 10 shaft tombs containing both collective and individual burials.

Researchers say the skeletal find is in great contrast to the remains of the other 104 people found in the Samdzong tombs since 2010. “Among 10 shaft tombs, most of the chambers were communal in nature, as they housed multiple individuals, while Samdzong cave 7 had a single interment,” said Aldenderfer.

“Instead of being found lying flat on the cave floor, we believe that most were placed in cave tombs on low wooden platforms.” This person had beside him a whetstone (used to sharpen knives and metal), a handle of knife, and a single iron arrow-point with some of the wooden shaft intact, Aldenderfer, who is also the lead researcher of the project, told this daily.

A variety of artifacts were also found in these tombs — ceramics, copper vessels, the remains of wooden platters, bamboo cups, fragments of iron plates, many iron arrow points, iron daggers, lots of horse tack (buckles for bridles, etc), part of a wooden saddle, and much more.

The remains of sheep and goat and two horses were also found in these tombs.

“Unfortunately, because the April 2015 earthquake shook the caves and mixed their contents, we do not have a clear picture of how the artifacts were placed with the dead.”

The cause of death, however, remains a puzzle and the research team is putting the pieces together. “We did not observe any artificial mummification or other treatment of the person and we could not identify cause of death from the bones.”

“There is clear evidence of the defleshing of these people  men and women, young and old,” the scientist added.

The genetics of the people of Samdzong indicate that they were descendants of people who migrated into the Tibetan plateau as early as 3,000 years ago.

The research under way in coordination with the Department of Archaeology is about developing an understanding of the peopling of the high Himalayan valleys,   Jiban Ghimire, chairman of the SkyDoor Foundation Nepal, told this daily.

According to the foundation, the project was started in 2009, covering the caves and shaft tombs in Mebrak and Samdzong.

Till date, the scientists have found cut marks on 461 discrete human bones among the 2228 ones recovered from the ancient funerary caves.


A version of this article appears in print on September 07, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.

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