Mhebrak cave (Népal) : Study leads to peculiar discovery

MUSTANG CAVE: Study leads to peculiar discovery

Ankit Adhikari

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Experts digging into the mysteries of the famous Mhebrak cave in Lower Mustang have unearthed new clues, which could potentially unravel a significant portion of human history dating back to 450 BC.


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 culture of the prehistoric age.

They say the corpses—proved to have been of a mother and an infant—dating back to 450 BC were recovered in a sleeping posture where the mother seems to have protected her infant in every possible way. Interestingly, the body of the infant was found all compact, 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 troupe. Even more intriguing about this finding is that the infant was found sleeping by the bosom of its mother who seemed holding the child tightly. The mother’s posture also played a role in protecting the infant’s body from rotting away, say experts.

“Cold temperature must also have played a role, but it is still hard to believe,” says Lama, adding that this is a breakthrough in the history of excavation culture globally. “We are preparing to keep the body for display at the Chhauni museum for a month.”

Normally, decomposition of a buried body starts as soon as it is exposed to bacteria. After bacteria decomposes the ligaments in joints and the fluids holding two bones dry up, bones and joints start to get dismantled.

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 purpose. 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.”

The 1992-1997 excavation carried out in other parts of Mustang, according to Hari Shrestha, associate professor at the Tribhuvan University (TU), made another important discovery as well. “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,” he said in an article published in the Post on December 15.