An elaborate cave structure discovered in a mountainous district of Nepal in 2007 contained human remains dating back 1,500 years, officials said Sunday.
A study of murals and DNA tests of the skeletal remains of 27 individuals found in a wooden structure inside what is believed to be a communal grave shows that migrants from the Ladakh area in northwestern India lived with Tibetans in the Upper Mustang area, said Bishnu Raj Karki, head of the government’s Department of Archeology.
The department conducted joint research with American archeologist Mark Aldenderfer and Peter Athans, a veteran mountaineer.
“The mural paintings show the clear influence of northwestern Indian culture on Tibetan culture. The caves were home to cultural confluence. The human remains have been found to be 1,500 years old,” Karki told Kyodo News.
The caves are located on a mountain at an altitude of 4,000 meters about 250 kilometers northwest of Kathmandu.
The partially collapsed caves, discovered by American, Italian and Nepalese archeologists, contain 55 exquisite paintings of Buddha and an elaborate web of dozens of interconnected caves built like multi- story apartments, according to Mohan Singh Lama, a Nepalese archeologist involved in the project.
The human remains found in a cave located at the top of the complex also indicate an ancient version of what is a more complete practice of sky burial still conducted in the Mustang district, Lama added.
The practice owes its origin to the landscape of Upper Mustang, where there is no vegetation and it is impossible for buried bodies to decompose.
“It appears that until 1,500 years ago, the dead were de-fleshed. The flesh was fed to vultures while bones were stored in the communal grave,” Lama said.
“But with caves becoming dangerous to live in due to landslips and people switching to houses built on flat areas, the practice changed and these days even the bones and skulls are crushed and fed to vultures by leaving the crushed remains on open space,” said Lama, explaining the practice of sky burial.
As the cave complex is likely to collapse completely, archeologists have left the human remains in the custody of local people.