KATHMANDU, Feb 26: Arduous archaeological research in upper Mustang has uncovered astonishing facts about a previously unknown Himalayan cave culture, said the Department of Archaeology (DOA).
The research involving highly skilled archaeologists and other experts who rummaged through remote cave complexes for five years has come up with the remains of an ancient cave people, their arts and manuscripts, providing a new look into ancient Himalayan civilization.
According to DAO, the researchers discovered the remains of 27 individuals buried in caves at 13,800 feet. Adult men, women, adolescents, even children, along with cattle, were deposited in a wooden structure and hidden inside a cliff-top communal grave for some 1,500 years. “The researchers believe the culture they have uncovered carried with it the origins of the sky burial practice of the Tibetan plateau,” DAO said in its report.
The caves, explored by archaeologists and experts led by American archaeologist and National Geographic grantee Dr. Mark Aldenderfer, are believed to date back some 3,000 years.
Analysis of the 5th century skeletal remains found last summer shows cut marks--some 67 percent of the bodies were de-fleshed. Stripped of the flesh, the bones were deposited inside the cave tombs, a practice distinctly different from the more complete offering of chopped bones and flesh in the ethnically Tibetan practice known as sky burial, said DAO.
According to DAO, detailed analysis of the crumbling caves and their contents through different methods including DNA analysis has painted a more comprehensive picture of the important role of the Kali Gandaki River corridor in human migration and the exchange of art and religion between the regions of Central Asia, the Tibetan plateau and Southeast Asia.
Based on lab results from DNA of the cave populations, the research suggests that like in modern times, people from the highlands moved well into the lowlands in prehistoric times, DAO said.
DAO Director General Bishnu Raj Karki said the research would prove that the Kali Gandaki River corridor was an important historical artery for the Silk Route. The research was carried out in cooperation with Skydoor Foundation Nepal.
“The research has illuminated the historical significance of the archaeologically rich region that has previously been overlooked,” said Karki. “The team fully expects to find more human remains in the caves in the upcoming years, each culture providing a window into the constantly changing human tapestry of Mustang´s deep history.”
DAO, meanwhile, is worried that the time for unearthing the early cave cultures of upper Mustang is running out. The ancient human-carved cave system that the international team explored last summer is peeling away in layers with each monsoon.
“Clues to when these caves were built and by whom are melting before our eyes,” the DAO report quotes Pete Athans, an American explorer involved in the research team and also a seven-time Everest summiter, as saying. “The cave tomb we found is under great threat. It is situated in a fragile rock matrix that has already collapsed some time in the past. I do not believe the tomb would have lasted one more monsoon.”