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New Delhi: Human skeletons dating back to 165 years that were excavated from Punjab in 2014 belong to Indian soldiers from the Gangetic plain region who were killed by the British army during the revolt of the 1857 Indian freedom struggle, according to a study.

A large number of these human skeletons were found in an old well in Ajnala town. Some historians believed that these skeletons belong to the people killed in riots during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.

Based on various historical sources, the other prevailing belief is that these are skeletons of the Indian soldiers killed by the British army during the revolt of the 1857 Indian freedom struggle.

However, the identity of these soldiers and their geographic origins has been under intense debate due to a lack of scientific evidence.

The latest study, published on Thursday in the journal Frontiers in Genetics, shows that the skeletons were of soldiers belonging to the Gangetic plain region, consisting of people from the eastern part of Bengal, Odisha, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

According to Professor Gyaneshwer Chaubey, from the Department of Zoology, Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Uttar Pradesh, the findings add a significant chapter in the history of the “unsung heroes of India’s first freedom struggle.”

“This study confirms two things: First the Indian soldiers were killed during the 1857 revolt and second that they are from Ganga plain, and not from Punjab,” Chaubey, who played a crucial role in the DNA study, told PTI.

“There was a debate about their origin. Many said they had been killed during the India Pakistan partition. And there were two groups in 1857 theory: one considered them local (Punjabi) soldiers and the other group considered them as 26th Native infantry regiment soldiers stationed at the Mian Mir cantonment Lahore,” he added.

Niraj Rai, the lead researcher of the study and an expert on ancient DNA, said that scientific research done by the team helps to look at history from a more evidence-based way.

J.S.Sehrawat, an anthropologist from Panjab University, Chandigarh, collaborated with BHU, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) Hyderabad and Birbal Sahni Institute, Lucknow to establish the roots of these martyrs using DNA and isotope analyses.

“The results from this research are consistent with the historical evidence that the 26th Native Bengal Infantry Battalion consisted of people from the eastern part of Bengal, Odisha, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh,” said J S Sehrawat, the first author of the study.

The researchers used 50 samples for DNA analysis and 85 specimens for isotope analysis.

“DNA analysis helps understand people’s ancestry, and isotope analysis sheds light on food habits,” said K Thangaraj, Chief Scientist, CCMB, and a senior member of the team.

Both the research methods supported that the human skeletons found in the well were not of people living in Punjab or Pakistan. Rather, DNA sequences matched with the people from UP, Bihar, and West Bengal,” Thangaraj added.

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