A team of archaeologists have found thickened soot layers in many caves located in the Ladakh region. These soot layers are believed to be produced because of man-made activities when these caves were regularly occupied by herders and travellers of the Silk Route for many centuries in the past.
Researchers from the Lucknow-based Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences (BSIP) and the University of Lucknow jointly carried out field studies at several caves which are located near Rumtse, Sumdo and Gya villages of Ladakh, located along the Leh-Manali route to understand the use of caves by people in the region.
Anupam Sharma, senior scientist at BSIP said that the region has harsh terrain, dominated by inclement weather, permits very little cultivation and availability of resources. They are of the belief that those who lived in cave occupants would have burnt wood to keep themselves warm and also performed basic cooking. Both of these activities were the sources generating soot that has settled on the cave roofs.
Researchers say that the soot has hardened over time, become resinous, sticky and developed a shiny character. Sharma told The Indian Express that the soot has become so hardened that even after touching it with bare hands, it did not leave black stains on the fingers.
Upon examination, significant amount of quartz was found to be present along with some amounts of plagioclase and dolomite. A few of these caves also had compartments inside with interconnections too. The study noted that metallic elements like black iron or manganese found on the roof indicate a biogenic origin of the deposits.
Locals in the region believe that the human activity could belong somewhere around the 12th century because of the presence of structures which are related to Buddhism. Popular belief says that Buddhist monks used to frequently use this route. The researchers are performing dating processes to determine the age of the excavated remnants, including pottery items.
Sharma said that these caves would have been located along the water streams and thus found occupants many centuries back. But now they are situated 10 to 20 metres higher than the streams as the Himalayas grow by a few millimetres every year.
The excavators also found some small pits present inside many caves of about 8 – 12 feet in height and 10 feet in diameter. They found small bones of birds and pottery from the pits inside the cave. Researchers are trying to date them.