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2 January 2012
Human remains from 450 BCE unearthed in a Nepalese cave

Experts digging into the Mhebrak cave in Lower Mustang (Nepal) have unearthed new clues, which could potentially unravel a significant portion of human history dating back to 450 BCE. A team of experts including those from the Department of Archaeology (DoA), who have been studying two unique corpses recovered from Mhebrak cave complex in Muktinath Valley of Lower Mustang, say shocking features of the corpses are drawing them closer to discovery of a peculiar prehistoric culture.
     They say the corpses - proved to have been of a mother and an infant - dating back to 450 BCE were recovered in a sleeping posture where the mother seems to have protected her infant. Interestingly, the body of the infant was found with steady bones and joints that were not detached. Even a layer of thin skin covering the infant's bones is still intact. Finding of a human body as old as 2,600 years in such a peculiar condition, says Mohan Singh Lama, an excavation officer at the DoA, challenges the conventional wisdom surrounding mummification of a corpse. Some parts of the mother's body including limbs were also intact.
     The discovery was made during an excavation between 1992-1997 by a team that included DoA experts and a Germany-based excavation team. According to Lama, 63 other corpses were also recovered from the same site. The Mehbrak cave complex, therefore, is assumed to have been a cave used for burial purposes. However, Lama says there are other possibilities too.  "They may have died in a landslide when mudstone of the inner cave fell on them," he said. "But the clothes tied to the feet of many corpses hint towards a mass killing."
     Hari Shrestha, associate professor at the Tribhuvan University (TU) said that during the 1992-1997 excavation carried out in other parts of Mustang "Ceramic vessels filled with food offered to the deceased were found into the grave chamber, pointing towards a very peculiar culture that is not in practice now."
     
Edited from The Kathmandu Post (28 December 2011)

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