Category Archives: INDIA

The mystery of India’s ‘lake of skeletons’

The mystery of India’s ‘lake of skeletons’

The view of an enormous pile of skulls and bones tangled under the water surface is quite enticing. You wonder who they are, and especially how they came here first because that lake is 16,000 feet above sea level and there is nothing more than ice tops and frozen glaciers around it.

The roopkund lake.

Every year, the ice melts and shows the human remains of more than 300 unfortunate people who rest at the bottom of the Roopkund, better known as the Skeleton Lake. This frozen, frozen, shallow lake is hidden deeper into the Indian Himalayas.

This “spectacular” view can be enjoyed in the core of the dark forest of Lohajung in Uttarakhand, India, by any enthusiastic trekking enthuse who wishes to walk down the steep path up to the glacier lake, which most of the moment is frozen, in a tiny valley elevated in the Garhwal section of the Himalayas.

Roopkund Lake contains hundreds of skeletons and is flanked by sheer cliffs.
The remains of an estimated 600-800 people have been found at the site

However, the ice begins to melt and the surface begins to see for a month when the temperature is sufficiently friendly. Then, the six-foot-deepest depth of the lake demonstrates what lies underneath the small and apparently typical natural wonders.

This is a death-ground filled with skeletons and not only that, but also the hair, nails, spears, knives, and gems, preserved by the frosts as if these souls had been decimated and found mysteriously their way into the bottom of this lake.

This stunning mystery has been tried by scientists, anthropologists, and historians to unravel. In 1942when the contents of the lake were first found by a British forest guard, Remains of unfortunate Japanese soldiers passing through the mountains were believed to be recent humans.

On the snow just outside the lake, the guard stumbled over a human skull, and on the basis of the preservation with a complete bunch of hair, it took on the most probable scenario. He submitted a report soon after finding more skeletons nearby and below the frozen lake surface.

And his hypotheses seemed logical at first. But there was no inquiry of the bones, and nobody knew who they were, what they were and what had occurred. So obviously, in moments of conflict, the authorities had the same initial conviction that these are the residues of a military battalion that passed through the hills in the direction of India.

But all these first impressions came down the drain after a more thorough inquiry when spears and all sorts of various old arms or bars were discovered lying next to the bones, and it was evident comprehensive research of the remains needed to be done.

The mystery had been unresolved for some moment and many theories were brought to life about what had occurred. People even accepted a local faith in an old goddess who would lay waste to a group of individuals who defied her.

The legend says that this goddess was so furious by the group of people who ostensibly passed by her unspoiled shrine in the mountains that she flung iron hailstones over these petty disrespectful people and killed them on the spot. The legend said she was so furious.

In recent studies, it has been found, in fact, that the skulls and their shoulders have clear signs of round-shape blows as if they had been struck from above. In 2004, the lake received samples and research from an expedition led by a team of Indian scientists with a few Europeans.

During the progress of DNA testing, the bones and some of the preserved human tissue could now be examined. The common belief was that the skeletons were the remains of people who over the years were killed by severe weather and sudden storms on the hills and slipped into the lake with snow, which prevented the natural process of decomposition.

Human skeletons at Roopkund Lake.

Although the bodies discovered that their height and body are distinguished, Almost all remains from the same time, at about 850 A.D., are found in the Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit of the University of Oxford, UK. In addition, two separate body types with similar DNA were found.

A group of smaller and thinner people and one completely the opposite. This resulted in them thinking it had to be a pilgrimage group or a kind of mountain excursion which hired local guides. Sadly, a baseball-style hail storm murdered them on their manner trapped in a valley and nowhere to find a shelter. That’s the recent scientific research at least.

One group of shorter individuals with smaller and thinner bones, and one completely the opposite. Which led them to believe that it must have been a group on pilgrimage or some kind of expedition in the mountains that hired some local guides. Unfortunately for them, trapped in a valley, and nowhere to be found with shelter, they were killed by a baseball-sized hail storm. This, at least, is based on recent scientific research.

According to the historical Himalayan legend of the ancient goddess, a king went on a pilgrimage in India to the Nanda Division Raj Jat Festival only once every 12 years, with his spouse, family, servants, musicians and others.

They hired locals to help them get there, but along the way, and despite locals telling them otherwise, the goddess Nanda Devi was angry and punished with their loudness. But most of all, a pregnant woman was in the group that presumably gave birth in the sacred land of the goddess. The newborn was the biggest sin of all and she had “hard-as-iron” sent out a storm of hailstones and murdered them.

This shrine in honor of Nanda Devi lies along the trail to Roopkund Lake.

Although it wasn’t the goddess ‘ wrath, it was certainly the fury of what killed hundreds of people. At least part of a legend clarified the mystery well before science. That means something completely distinct until more information and further research are revealed. This should be followed by a science or academic institution because sadly all trekking passers-by pick a bone or two as souvenirs, and very shortly there might be nothing left to be studied.

The Powerful Symbol of the Swastika and its 12,000 Year History

The Powerful Symbol of the Swastika and its 12,000 Year History

The swastika is a sign of the massacres of millions of people and the destructiveness of one of the most despised men on Earth. But it’s not Adolf Hitler who used the symbol first. It was actually utilized by many cultures and continents as a powerful symbol thousands of years before him.

The Swastika has been an important symbol for many thousands of years to the Hindus and Buddhists of India and other Asian countries, but the symbol is still visible in abundance – on temples, buses, taxis, and covers of books.

It was used in Ancient Greece as well and can be found in the ancient city of Troy that existed four thousand years ago.

A swastika is a symbol found in many cultures, with different meanings, drawn in different styles.

The ancient Druids and the Celts also used the symbol, reflected in many artefacts that have been discovered. It was used by Nordic tribes and even early Christians used the swastika as one of their symbols.

For example, the Teutonic Knights, a German medieval military order that became a purely religious Catholic order, used it. But why is this symbol so important and why did Adolf Hitler decide to use it?

The word “swastika” is a Sanskrit word (“svastika”) meaning “It is,” well being,” “good existence,” and “good luck.” However, it is also known by different names in different countries—like “wan” in China, “manji” in Japan, “fylfot” in England, “Hakenkreuz” in Germany and “tetraskelion” or “tetragammadion” in Greece.

Mosaic swastika in excavated Byzantine church in Shavei Tzion (Israel).

A Sanskrit scholar P.R. Sarkar in 1979 said that the deeper meaning of the word is “permanent victory.”

The earliest swastika ever found was uncovered in Mezine, Ukraine, carved on an ivory figurine, which dates an incredible 12,000 years, and one of the earliest cultures that are known to have used the swastika was a Neolithic culture in Southern Europe, in the area that is now Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, known as the Vinca Culture, which dates back around 8,000 years.

In Buddhism, the swastika is a symbol of good fortune, prosperity, abundance, and eternity. It is directly related to Buddha and can be found carved on statues on the soles of his feet and on his heart.  It is said that it contains Buddha’s mind.

Wooden Buddha statue with gamadian (swastika).

On the walls of the Christian catacombs in Rome, the symbol of the swastika appears next to the words “zotiko zotiko,” which means “life of life.” It can also be found on the window openings of the mysterious Lalibela Rock churches of Ethiopia, and in various other churches around the world.

In Nordic Myths, Odin is represented passing through space as a whirling disk or swastika looking down through all worlds. In North America, the swastika was used by the Navajos.

In Ancient Greece, Pythagoras used the swastika under the name “tetraktys,” and it was a symbol linking heaven and Earth, with the right arm pointing to heaven and the left arm pointing to Earth.

The swastika, the Phoenician sun symbol, on the Phoenician Craig-Narget stone in Scotland, and on the robe of a Phoenician high priestess.

It was used by the Phoenicians as a symbol of the sun and it was a sacred symbol used by the priestesses.

How and why did so many diverse countries and cultures, across many eras, use the same symbol and apparently with the same meaning? It is ironic, and unfortunate, that a symbol of life and eternity that was considered sacred for thousands of years has become a symbol of hatred.

Over 67 million-year-old tree fossil found in Shimla district in India

Over 67 million-year-old tree fossil found in Shimla district in India

A tree fossil estimated to be over 67 million years old has been found near Kharapathar in the district, an expert said on Thursday. The fossilised tree belongs to the Mesozoic era, Hari Chauhan, curator of State Museum and a fossil expert who visited the spot, said. The Mesozoic era is the age of dinosaurs, and lasted about 180 million years, from about 250 to 65 million years ago.

Rohru’s Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Chandulal Tahsildar said he found the fossils during a site visit to the area in connection with complaints of illegal filling. He said frequent landslides that the area experienced recently could have brought the fossils to the surface.

“It was during my visit to the place on March 30 that I chanced upon these fossils that obviously seemed to look very old,” he said, adding that the tree stumps were nearly 11×8 feet and elliptical.

Over 67 million-year-old tree fossil found in Shimla district in India
Himachal Pradesh: A tree fossil found in Kharapathar, Shimla district. According to Harish Chauhan, Curator State Museum the fossil belongs to the Mesozoic geological era.

Chauhan, who visited the site, said the discovery could either be tree fossils or geological formations.

“It’s a very important discovery either way,” he said, adding that such fossils, while not uncommon in the Shiwalik ranges, were rare in Himalayan ranges. Similar fossils have been found in Spiti.

“If it’s a tree fossil, it’s very important from the point of view of paleontological studies. And if it’s a geological formation, then it’s a crucial discovery in the field of geological studies,” he said, adding a team of geologists and forest officials would join him in thoroughly searching the area.

Meanwhile, the latest discovery will be protected.

About Fossils :

A fossil is the remains or trace of an ancient living thing. Fossils of animals, plants, or protists occur in sedimentary rock. In a typical fossil, the body form is retained, but the original molecules that made up the body have been replaced by some inorganic materials, such as calcium carbonate (CaCO3) or silica (SiO2). The fossil feels like, and is, made of rock. It has been mineralised or petrified(literally, turned into rock).

A fossil may also be an imprint or impression of a living thing remaining in the fossilised mud of a long-gone age. Some organisms fossilise well, others do not.

The most common fossils are those left behind by organisms that produce hard materials. The hard, calcitic shells of molluscs (such as clams and snails) and of now-rare brachiopods (also known as lampshells) are examples. These sea-dwelling shellfish have produced many fossiliferous (that is, fossil-bearing) chalky layers of limestone in the earth.

Soft-bodied organisms can fossilise in special circumstances: the Ediacaran biota is a good example. The best-known fossils for the general public are those of the giant, prehistoric dinosaurs. The fossilized bones and fossilized tracks of these huge, ancient reptiles can be seen in many museums of natural history and earth science.

The study of fossils by geologists and biologists is known as palaeontology. If the study puts living things in their ecological context it is called paleobiology.

Mesozoic Era  :

The Mesozoic Era is the age of the dinosaurs and lasted almost 180 million years from approximately 250 to 65 million years ago. This era includes 3 well known periods called the Triassic, Jurassic, and cretaceous periods.

A mass extinction marked the beginning and end of the Mesozoic Era. The event that caused the transition from the Paleozoic era to the Mesozoic era was the greatest extinction this earth has seen. This extinction wiped out about 95% of all marine life and 70% of land life. This allowed the dinosaurs to step in and settle into their role as the lords of the earth. The era ended with “The Great Extinction” which marked the end of the dinosaurs as the Cenozoic era began.

Tectonics :

At the beginning of the Mesozoic era, the continents as we know them were joined together as the massive mother continent, Pangaea. It was during the age of the dinosaurs that Pangaea was transformed into the modern continents.

Pangaea became two great continents known as Laurasia and Gondwana and the Atlantic Ocean began to grow. Laurasia eventually split into the continents of North America and Eurasia. Gondwana became the modern continents of South America, Africa, Australia, Antarctica, and the Indian subcontinent, which, after the Mesozoic era, collided with Eurasia forming the Himalayas.

Environment :

The environment was unusually warm and polar ice caps did not yet exist. This played a large part in the evolution and is a key factor behind the flourishing of the dinosaurs.

During the Triassic period, the climate was generally dry, which changed near the Jurassic period as oceans began to rise due to mounting layers of magma covering the seafloor. As a result, flooding overtook many parts of the exposed land.

This allowed the climate to change with increased humidity and it continued that way even into the Cretaceous period. However, the climate began to cool during the Cretaceous although temperatures may have risen again near the end of the Mesozoic.

17th-Century Gold Bracelet Unearthed in India

17th-Century Gold Bracelet Unearthed in India

In the hilltop complex in Mahad, nearly 160kilometers from Mumbai, the India Archeological Survey, and the Raigad Development Authority (RDA) organize excavations.

Following the news of the finding of a gold bracelet, Shri Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati, a descendent of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, visited the fort and had a closer look at the artifact.

“This will help us understand the lifestyle, culture, and architecture of the time period contemporary to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. I would like to appreciate ASI for their efforts on Raigad excavation and conservation work,” said Sambhaji Chhatrapati, who belongs to the royal family of Kolhapur and a President-nominated Rajya Sabha member.

“A gold ornament (gold bangle) was discovered during excavation. It is possible that such invaluable objects can be found during future excavation,” said Sambhaji Chhatrapati, the chairperson of RDA.

“Till date, many ornaments, vessels, contemporary things used in construction, coins etc has been discovered through excavation,” he said.

In 1674, Shivaji Maharaj made Raigad Fort his capital.

Earlier known as Rairi, Shivaji Maharaj seized the fort from Chandraraoji More, the king of Jawli and a descendant of Chandragupta Maurya, in 1656. For over a decade, it was renovated and strengthened. The villages of Pachad and Raigadwadi are located at the base of the fort.

After the death of Shivaji and thereafter the killing of his son Sambhajil Maharaj in 1689, the fort was captured by Mughals under Aurangzeb, and in 1818, it was the target of an armed expedition of the British East India Company.

Located 820 meters (2,700 feet) above sea level in the Sahyadri mountain ranges, the fort can be accessed by a single pathway comprising 1737 steps.

Surrounded by deep green valleys, the fort has several gateways that enthrall its visitors, namely, the Mena Darwaja, Nagarkhana Darwaja, Palkhi Darwaja, and the majestic Maha Darwaja which is the main entrance to the imperial structure.

There are 21 villages around the Raigad Fort.

The Fort stands as a silent reminder of Maharashtra’s glorious past though the sound of trumpets and drums or the clang of clashing swords and shields are heard no more at this historic monument, which is identified as ‘durgaraj’ (king of forts).

The Britishers had named it “Gibraltar of the East” as the well-fortified structure atop the hill was extremely difficult to access, leave alone conquer. Various landmarks have lent it the credo of ‘Shiva-teerth’.

The fort has attained the status of a holy shrine for the devotees of Lord Shiva as hundreds and thousands of people visit the fort every day not alone for its heritage character and its being a specimen of perfect defense architecture but also for being the seat of their role model, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, who is well known for valor, courage, administrative acumen, benevolence, and patriotism.

9,500-year-old ‘lost city found Underwater Off India

9,500-year-old ‘lost city found Underwater Off India

The remains were discovered in the Gulf of Cambay, off the western coast of India, by marine archaeologists. They discovered massive geometrical structures using sonar scanning technology, which sends a beam of sound waves down to the ocean’s depths.

The vast region, which measured five miles long and two miles wide, was thought to predate the oldest known remains in the subcontinent by more than 5,000 years but has been the subject of contention.

Their accidental discovery was revealed during Graham Hancock’s ‘Underworld – Flooded Kingdoms of the Ice Age’ documentary. The pseudo archaeologist claimed: “The end of the great Ice Age shaped the world we live in today.

“A mass of water poured into the water as the ice caps melted and sea levels rose 400 feet.

“Floods swallowed up the best coastal lands on Earth and all traces of the people who lived on them vanished beneath the sea.

Relics were uncovered following a sonar scan
The discovery was made in the Gulf of Cambay

“Could this mass flooding have been the inspiration for hundreds of flood myths from all around the world?”

Mr Hancock, whose work has never been published in an academic journal, went on to detail why he believed the find in India could be linked to the Ice Age.

He said: “In India, new evidence from the bottom of the sea is showing substance to the myth. 

“This is the Gulf of Cambay in northwest India – in late 2001 scientists conducting pollution studies made an astonishing accidental discovery. 

“25 miles from shore, at a depth of 120 feet, they picked up traces of an ancient city covering a large area of the seabed.

“The discovery threatened to overturn everything that archaeologists believed about the origins of civilisation.”

 Mr Hancock went on to detail what he believed they had pulled from the ocean.

He continued: “They found a city the size of Manhattan with massive walls and plazas.

“And man-made objects from the submerged cities have yielded carbon dates up to 9,500 years old – that’s 5,000 years older than any city discovered by archaeologists anywhere.

“It means we are dealing with a civilisation lost at the end of the Ice Age, perhaps even one of those that the flood myths speak of which flourished before history began.”

Some of the relics dated back more than 9,000 years
Lost city ‘could rewrite history’

Debris recovered from the site – including construction material, pottery, sections of walls, beads, sculpture and human bones were carbon-dated – but not without controversy.

One major complaint is that artefacts at the site were recovered by dredging, instead of being recovered during a controlled archaeological excavation.  This leads some experts to claim that these artefacts cannot be definitively tied to a site, especially as the gulf is connected to many rivers.

Due to this, several prominent archaeologists rejected a piece of wood that was recovered and dated to 7500BC as having any significance in dating the site in particular. Chairman of the Paleoclimate Group and founder of Carbon-14 testing facilities in India, Dr D.P. Agrawal, explained in an article in Frontline Magazine that the piece was dated twice, at separate laboratories.

Some archaeologists take issue with the artefacts used.

The National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) returned a date of 7190 BC and the Birbal Sahni Institute of Paleobotany (BSIP) returned a date of 7545-7490BC. Dr Agrawal contested that the discovery of an ancient piece of wood implies the discovery of an ancient civilisation.

He argued that the wood piece is a common find, given that 20,000 years ago the Arabian Sea was 100 metres lower than its current level, and that the gradual sea-level rise submerged entire forests. Instead, most agree that the divers simply found a large cache of archaeological remains spread across the area.

2,700 Year Old Yogi in Samadhi Found in Indus Valley Civilization Archaeological Site

2,700 Year Old Yogi in Samadhi Found in Indus Valley Civilization Archaeological Site

While Yoga is being sold by Corporate Gurus today, it is necessary to remember that Yoga as a system of Spiritual development was in vogue probably by or before the Rig Veda which is dated around 5000 BC.

However, I have provided information that the Vedas date back much earlier, going back to at least 75000 years. While there is no specific reference to Yoga is found in the Vedas, Yoga seems to have been in vogue during that period or earlier.

And while Shiva is not mentioned in detail in the Vedas the Tamil literature speaks of Him. Evidence about Thiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu is 3.94 Billion years and Jwalapuram in Telangana, India being 74000 years old has come to light.

Lord Shiva.

The 2,700-year-old skeletal remains of an ancient yogi sitting in samadhi have been found in an Indus valley civilization archaeological site located at Balathal, Rajasthan.

Many Indus Valley seals depict pictures of yogis sitting in the lotus position. Here are two examples showing ancient yogis sitting in meditation and keeping their hands on their knees as done in modern yoga meditations. If we see the skeletal remains of the yogi above, we can note that his fingers are in gyana mudra (with the thumb touching index finger), resting on his knees as well.

2,700 Year Old Yogi in Samadhi Found in Indus Valley Civilization Archaeological Site
Yogi Remains in Baithal, Padmasana and with Gyan Mudra

Balathal is an archaeological site located in Vallabhnagar tehsil of the Udaipur district of Rajasthan state in western India. This site, located 6 km from Vallabhnagar town and 42 km from Udaipur city, was discovered by V. N. Misra during a survey in 1962-63. Excavation began in 1994 jointly by the Department of Archaeology of the Deccan College Post-graduate and Research Institute, Pune and the Institute of Rajasthan Studies, Udaipur.

Excavation of sites from the 4,500-year-old Ahar culture provide clues to the link between the Harappans and their predecessors. That it existed at all was a surprise – a fortified enclosure of mud and brick, comparable to the citadels of the Harappans, spread over 500 sq m. It was filled with ash and cow dung. A people called the Ahars had built it in Balathal near modern Udaipur some 4,500 years ago.

Carbon dating established that they had lived in and around the Mewar region in Rajasthan between 3,500 and 1,800 B.C. They were Mewar’s first farmers, older even than the Harappans. But why had they built a fort only to fill it with ash and cow dung? To solve the mystery, a team of Indian archaeologists excavating the site went on removing layer after layer of civilisation.

The mystery deepened. They found five skeletons, four in layers between 2,000 B.C. and 1,800 B.C. That was the age of stone and copper, the chalcolithic age. This was the first time human skeletons had been found at any Ahar site. The Ahars, it had been thought, cremated their dead. And the Harappans buried theirs.

There are 90 sites of Ahar – a rural society. The recent round of excavations is establishing that Ahar culture and Harappan civilisation were different though contemporary and related. This village life emerged much before the mature Harappan era.

Harappa’s progress in the mature Harappan period (2,500 B.C.) helped the rural Ahar people to flourish and develop their own township and stone and brick houses. On the scale of civilisation, they emerged far ahead of other chalcolithic cultures in the subcontinent.

And they may be the missing link to show how the Indus people made such a quantum leap from small rural communities to an advanced civilisation.

Ahar culture flourished predominantly in the Mewar region of Rajasthan, on the eastern side of the Aravallis, and in undulating rocky plateaus and plains along the Banas River and its tributaries.

In modern Rajasthan, Ahar sites have been reported in Udaipur, Chittorgarh, Dungarpur, Bhilwara, Rajsamand, Bundi, Tonk and Ajmer dotting10,000 sq km. “There is a commonality in all 90-sites located in Southeastern Rajasthan and parts of Madhya Pradesh,” says Jaipur-based Rima Hooja, a scholar on Ahar culture.

Their name comes from a mid-1950s excavation led by R.C. Aggarwal, former director of archaeology, Rajasthan, at Ahar near Udaipur. A few years later, one excavation was carried out at Gilund in Rajsamand and then the focus shifted to the Harappans.

The Deccan College, Pune and Institute of Rajasthan Studies, Rajasthan Vidyapeeth, Udaipur turned their attention to Ahar culture in 1994 and began excavations in Balathal. Deccan College and the University of Pennsylvania began digging in Gilund in 1999 and the Jaipur circle of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) began excavation at Ojiyana in Bhilwara in 2000. And discoveries began pouring in.

Gwen Robbins, a biological anthropologist from the University of Oregon, USA, in her ongoing preliminary analysis of the bones, found the first skeleton uncovered was of a male. Dead at the age of 50, he suffered from joint disease and had lost all but four of his teeth at least five years before death. On closer inspection of the remains, a left mandible and a few cranial fragments were found to be of a second individual aged 35 whose sex couldn’t be determined.

The third skeleton was of a female approximately 35 years of age. The fourth was of a 35-year-old woman, and it caught the archaeologists’ interest. It had been buried with a small earthen lota (pot) near the head. Why was the lota there? “I am certain that the fortified enclosure had a ritual function,” says Dr V.N. Mishra, former principal of the Deccan College, who led the excavations: “You don’t find such selective burials in cow dung and ash anywhere else.”

The fifth skeleton, from a different era, was of an adult male 35 to 40 years old and had been buried in a seated position that resembles the modern samadhi burial of sadhus who renounce the world. The ritual of burial in ash and cow dung raises the need to look at related traditions in present-day Hindu communities such as Gosain and Jogi which bury their dead.

The Diamond Sutra: The Oldest Known Printed Book in the World

The Diamond Sutra: The Oldest Known Printed Book in the World

The Diamond Sutra: The Oldest Known Printed Book in the World
A page from The Diamond Sutra

With the holiday mood in the air and the sun blazing down in almost every part of our country, you might be one of those who does some reading to relax yourself after a draining session, playing outside.

We’ve all taken to books at one point or another, be it just for the pleasure of reading, to do some activities or study for exams. Do you, however, know which the oldest dated printed book still in existence even today is?

That honour goes to The Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist religious text. While the book dates back to the year 868 AD, it was found only in 1907, having remained hidden for nearly 1,000 years. The credit for this goes to Sir Aurel Stein, a Hungary-born British archaeologist and explorer.

Sir Aurel Stein

Unearthing a diamond

Born in Budapest in 1862, Stein studied Sanskrit, Old Persian, Indology and Philology, preparing himself for a career in India. While his formal positions from 1888 included being a registrar of Punjab University, principal of the Oriental College, Lahore and principal of the Calcutta Madrasah, his real interest was in exploring India, China, Central and West Asia.

Stein carried out three successful Silk Road expeditions during which he not only carried out archaeological excavations and photographing, but also geological and ethnographical surveys. He eventually died in his 80s in 1943, a week after arriving in Afghanistan, while embarking on his long-dreamt expedition to the country.

Perfect for preservation

Stein is now best-known for his discovery of the library cave at the Mogao Grottoes or Caves of a Thousand Buddhas in Dunhuang, China.

This secret library is believed to have been sealed up around the year 1000 AD when the area had expected a threat from the outside.

Aurel Stein (centre) with his expedition team.

Having remained hidden since then, the dry desert air had provided the perfect conditions for the preservation of the paper and silk scrolls inside.

Nearly 40,000 such scrolls were finally found in 1900 when a monk discovered a sealed entrance to the unknown cave during restoration work at a Buddhist monastery. Among these was The Diamond Sutra, the world’s earliest, dated, printed book. Stein gained access to it during his second exploration in 1907.

The Diamond Sutra

While this copy of The Diamond Sutra is now considered the oldest known printed book, its contents are central to Indian Buddhism and are believed to have been translated from Sanskrit to Chinese in about 400 AD. The development of printing in China in the 8th Century paved the way for this book.

Carved wooden blocks were employed for printing, the technique for which had been refined and mastered by the time this book was produced in 868 AD.

Comprising seven panels of paper, each of these is printed from a single block and stuck together to create a single scroll. While The Diamond Sutra isn’t the earliest example of block printing, it is the earliest to include a colophon, which gives details about when and why this book was produced.

The last few lines of the text are the colophon, which reads: “Reverently made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents on the 13th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong.” In our calendar, that corresponds to May 11, 868.

The Diamond Sutra now resides at the British Library, along with an acknowledgement that it is the oldest dated printed book in existence.

The British Library is also part of the International Dunhuang Project, a collaboration aiming to make the thousands of manuscripts, paintings and artefacts from Silk Road sites available online.

Possible 10th-Century Buddhist Monastery Site Uncovered in India

Possible 10th-Century Buddhist Monastery Site Uncovered in India

Archaeological Survey of India researchers has discovered a tenth-century structure in one of three mounds identified as possible Buddhist sites on the Hazaribagh Plateau in northeastern India, around 110-km from capital Ranchi, ASI officials said on Tuesday.

The ASI identified three mounds in the foothills having links to Buddhism last year.

The excavation of the first mound last year led to the discovery of a complete shrine with a central and two subsidiary shrines, just two metres below the surface. However, the excavation work was suspended after two months due to the Covid-19 pandemic triggered lockdowns and some other reasons.

In the second round of excavation, beginning the last week of January this year, the second mound, around 40-meters away from the first mound or central shrine, was excavated and a small Buddha Vihar like structure was discovered.

“We started excavation in the second mound of the area in January last week, where a huge structural mound, similar to a small Buddha Vihar, was found with three cells (rooms).

In the west corner of the structure, we found five sculptures of Gautam Buddha in a seated position and one sculpture of Tara, which indicates that it might also be a centre of Vajrayana,” said Dr Neeraj Mishra, an assistant archaeologist at ASI.

The discovery will help understand the impact of Buddhism in Jharkhand.

Spread over a 50-metre long and 50-metre wide area, three cells and hoards of artefacts including statues of Gautam Budha and Tara, the female Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism who appears as a female Buddha in Vajrayana Buddhism, were discovered.

“As per the evidence found here, it appeared that the structures had been built during the Pala period. During the excavation, we found an inscription on a stone slab. The paleographic dating of the inscription suggests that it was of 10th century AD, meaning the Pala period,” said Dr Mishra.

It might have been a big religious centre then, as it is located on the side of the old Grand Trunk road, connecting Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh to Bihar, home to historic Bodh Gaya where Buddha attained salvation, he added.

He recalled that a shrine and two subsidiary shrines, spread over 30 metres long and 50 metres wide area, were discovered last year. “It was a single storey temple. An entry gate and stairs were also found there.”

Historians and archaeologists find the discovery of great importance, which will help understand the history and influence of the dynasty in Jharkhand.

Historian Dr DN Ojha, dean of, social sciences department at Ranchi University, said ancient history talks about the arrival of Buddhist monks in this area and the extension of Buddhism’s reach here.

“However, there was also a debate on this. The recent discovery in Hazaribag would work as big evidence to support the theory of extension of Buddhism and arrival of monks here,” he added.