Monday, December 2, 2013

Fascinating Ancient Hailstone Disaster In India, Circa 850 AD

Back in 1942, British soldiers made an alarming discover around a very high elevation lake in Roopkund, India, near the Himalayas.
Some of the skeletons in Roopkund, India  

Melting snow and ice revealed a whole bunch of skeletons. The British soldiers worried they were teh bodies of Japanese troops that had been trying to sneak into India the previous winter, during the height of World War II.

Nope. The victims all died much earlier than the winter of 1941-42.  Tests showed all of 200 or so victims died around 850 AD.  They were probably pilgrims heading through the area on their way to some religious event.

Their skeletons, and some of their shoes and other items were pretty well preserved, considering how long they'd been there, because this is a cold, high elevation place, which helps slow decomposition.

What killed them? According to Atlas Obscura blog on Slate, a team of scientists in 2004 determined a weather disaster killed them all.

The skeleton lake in India.  
Everyone died of blows to the head. And the skull fractures suggested whatever hit them was round. Since all of the skeletons showed signs of wounds on top of the heads and on their shoulders but not elsewhere on their bodies, whatever killed them had to come from above.

The scientists' conclusion?  It was probably a terrible thunderstorm with lots of hail the size of baseballs. The area around the lake has no place to take shelter, so the people were caught out in the open, and pelted with the hailstones.  

Remember, hail falls from many thousands of feet above the earth's surface, so they come down fast, often at around 90 mph. And getting hit in the head that's something like the hardness and size of a baseball is deadly.

Hail deaths in the United States are rare. The last time that happened was when a 19 year old man was trying to move his new car out of a violent Texas hailstorm in 2000 and died of head injuries. An infant died in a horrible 1979 hail storm in Fort Collins, Colorado.

But as the ancient case in India proves, hail can be a terrible killer.

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