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May 24, 2013 4:52 PM   Subscribe


 
…the "hard as iron” cricket ball-sized [about 23 centimeter/9 inches diameter] hailstones…

Whoever wrote this is clearly unfamiliar with either cricket or the meaning of the word "diameter." A cricket ball is about 9 inches in circumference.
posted by Nomyte at 4:57 PM on May 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


Nine-inch hailstones. Yikes.

I wonder if there were any survivors. I suppose it might have been possible for some people to take shelter under the bodies of those who were stricken down.
posted by orange swan at 4:57 PM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is like that 20 questions puzzle where you try to figure out how the guy hanged himself and the only clue is a water puddle underneath the body.
posted by ceribus peribus at 5:04 PM on May 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


This is like that 20 questions puzzle where you try to figure out how the guy hanged himself when the only clue is a water puddle underneath the body.

Almost exactly like it in that they appear to be making up the details as they go. Are they literally going to use an old wive's tale as an explanation?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:06 PM on May 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not saying it was aliens but it was totally aliens.

Also, I quite like the interface for the photos.
posted by elizardbits at 5:09 PM on May 24, 2013 [5 favorites]




Still seems a little odd. Can hailstorms really open with such extreme speed and density that of 200 people, every single one would be instantly killed or at least totally unconscious, so much so that not even a single one had time to drop into a crouch and put their arms over their heads, and thus get wounds on their back/arms? And be so brief that by the time they had collapsed in death/unconsciousness that it was over and they got no wounds on the rest of their prone body?

I guess they could be assuming that anyone in the first group survived the whole thing and then escaped, leaving the bodies behind, but the latter still seems bizarre. It seems like you would only have 1-2 seconds of hail. But if so, the valley part would be irrelevant -- they weren't trapped, they were surprised by a lightning-swift event.
posted by tavella at 5:16 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]




Cricket ball 2.80"


I was wondering about that. Did they mix up diameter and circumference?
posted by LionIndex at 5:18 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


and thus get wounds on their back/arms? And be so brief that by the time they had collapsed in death/unconsciousness that it was over and they got no wounds on the rest of their prone body?

Those wounds probably happened, but since they only have skeletons to work with, they have no evidence of them, since the skull is covered by a lot less flesh than other parts of the body. /guess
posted by LionIndex at 5:20 PM on May 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Or cricket with bowling.
posted by 445supermag at 5:21 PM on May 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


So no one thought to cover their heads as the first victims fell? I am not buying this.
posted by LarryC at 5:24 PM on May 24, 2013


Yes, but they said "only had wounds on their heads, and shoulders", and I'd think a hailstone that could leave visible breaks to a shoulder bone would smash hands and ankles too.
posted by tavella at 5:24 PM on May 24, 2013


I'm calling (unintended) BS on 9" diameter hail. But 9" circumference hail is bad enough, so there's that.
posted by Brak at 5:26 PM on May 24, 2013


But yeah, 800 AD? We're not talking evolutionary differences in intelligence from people now. Surely someone would have thought to go fetal position and cover her head, resulting in injuries beyond just the upper extremities. Maybe all of those folks lived to carry on....
posted by Brak at 5:30 PM on May 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


So they all died of blunt force trauma to the head, yet none of the skulls in the photographs show any sign of fracture. Huh?
posted by Sys Rq at 5:32 PM on May 24, 2013


So no one thought to cover their heads as the first victims fell? I am not buying this.

Well, yeah, I mean, surely some of them did. Later on they probably went somewhere else where there were less cricket-sized hailstones killing their friends and relatives.
posted by elizardbits at 5:33 PM on May 24, 2013 [15 favorites]


Ok, hear me out... Aliens pulled a think fast Malkovich and threw a massive big gulp of ice out the window at these poor people, instantly they are all clobbered by bocce ball sized ice projectiles, no one had time to hide underneath anyone else.

Thanks, I'll just be over here honing my razor.
posted by Divine_Wino at 5:33 PM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


There probably were survivors...the dead people with the head injuries were probably killed in the initial 'salvo' as it were.

Generally, when you experience hail, you think 'well that's annoying'...you don't necessarily think 'flee for cover' until it's too late. Especially given how rare hail is. Also consider that the fatal hail probably all hit at once....survivors would have been extracted to another locale, and would have died from their wounds elsewhere...and to people in 800AD, it would have seemed like such a 'wrath of the gods' kind of event, would you dare going back a second time to the valley of frozen bowling balls?
posted by LeRoienJaune at 5:38 PM on May 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Where are the other 194 people? I see like 4 skulls in those photos.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:39 PM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Maybe the hail only killed a few, but caused widespread injuries that made the survivors too wounded and weakened to travel. Then, hypothermia got the rest.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:41 PM on May 24, 2013


then came the ice weasels
posted by elizardbits at 5:42 PM on May 24, 2013 [53 favorites]




A cursory examination of the photographs leads me to the conclusion that those people were beaten to death with their own shoes. Possibly: choked on shoes.
posted by steef at 5:44 PM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, but they said "only had wounds on their heads, and shoulders", and I'd think a hailstone that could leave visible breaks to a shoulder bone would smash hands and ankles too.

Yeah, this is the part that seems the strangest. After all, once struck down, you think they would continue to be struck and damaged all over their bodies. If this is really what happened, then it must have been super intense and lasted only a couple of seconds. It really only takes one hit from a nine inch hailstone to kill a person.

Of course, there may have been many survivors, for all we know. It could have been a very large group with a fairly sparse hail. Or it could have been a very populated route, the storm only striking a small segment. If it was 850 AD and I was lucky enough to not be hit, I'd probably assume that I pissed off a god or a powerful wizard, and just get the hell out of there and never come back.

This reminds me of a dorm room debate I had in college about those Skittles commercials, where they rained from the sky on to all the happy people. I contended, alone against the rest, that the sweet candy rain would be merely painful and maybe a little injurious, but not actually lethal. I still think that I was right (feel free to weigh in), but I imagine that we could have all agreed that nine inch hailstones are pretty unsurvivable. Maybe they did piss off a goddess.
posted by Edgewise at 5:48 PM on May 24, 2013


This doesn't seem right, because hail doesn't fall all at once in a blanket. Presumably, you have some time to run or even take cover under a dead person.

No, this was much more likely a situation of avalanche + hypothermia + 1,500 years of exposure.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:51 PM on May 24, 2013


Having grown up 5 minutes from Lake Washington in Seattle, which is 20-something miles long and 200 feet deep, the term "lake absolutely full of skeletons" had me imagining more than 200 skeletons.

A lot more.
posted by billyfleetwood at 5:56 PM on May 24, 2013 [17 favorites]


1,500 years of exposure

This will at least result in some wrinkles, if not death.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:05 PM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


If there were survivors, though, wouldn't this have gone down in local history or folklore of some kind? I mean, there were a lot less people around in 850 than there are in 2012 and they were much more sparsely distributed. A group of 200 pilgrims must have been a huge group of people to begin with, really noteworthy, and if there were even more than it had to be a truly giant gathering. You would think that if there were survivors than the story of the sudden death of so many would be memorialized in legend forever. I kind of incline to the avalanche/exposure theory myself, with no survivors.

Or alien ice lizards.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:13 PM on May 24, 2013


. . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
posted by R. Schlock at 6:17 PM on May 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Generally, when you experience hail, you think 'well that's annoying'...you don't necessarily think 'flee for cover' until it's too late.

Having had pretty large (golf-ball-size) hail fall down on me within the last year I feel like I have to contradict this. There are large objects coming down on you from the sky! You do feel like you want to hide under something.

Often, hail ends pretty quickly, thus not a lot of additional blows on the bodies. I could see that.

If there were survivors, though, wouldn't this have gone down in local history or folklore of some kind?

Did you read the bit about the Himalayan folk song?
posted by furiousthought at 6:21 PM on May 24, 2013 [12 favorites]


This doesn't seem right, because hail doesn't fall all at once in a blanket. Presumably, you have some time to run or even take cover under a dead person.

Why not think that a whole bunch of people did survive by doing exactly that? It's not like we'd find the bodies of the survivors.
posted by painquale at 6:24 PM on May 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


They had a hailstorm of this ferocity recently in Pearl (a suburb of Jackson) MS. One of our workers was caught in it and his work truck looks like it was set upon by a crew of sledgehammer-wielding zombies. It was a very short, fast event that occurred over a relatively small area; there was a much wider area of milder hail damage, merely golf-ball sized.

But this small intense storm came on with great suddenness and ferocity. It completely destroyed passenger cars smashing all their windows and crushing their roofs and it totaled trucks peppering them all over with 1-2 cm deep (not wide, deep) craters.

My coworker said the aftermath looked like the zombie apocalypse, with the ground covered in surreal softball-size hailstone carpet and vehicles all abandoned and smashed up everywhere. Being caught out in the open with no shelter would probably have been exactly what the unfortunate OP expedition experienced.
posted by localroger at 6:28 PM on May 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


Did you read the bit about the Himalayan folk song? I did but I guess I took the word ancient and figured that meant the song predated this event. I guess they think the song is an account? I wish they had been clearer. Art history - where ancient and 850 AD are not at all synonymous - bites me in the ass again.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:30 PM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Daiquiris? Surely gin and tonics or margaritas would have been the better choice.
posted by mollweide at 6:36 PM on May 24, 2013


Am I missing something here? 200 pilgrims (ie probably carrying little besides their clothing) found covered in snow at 16,000 ft? Isn't death from exposure the, like 99.9999%, most likely explanation. I mean there's 1200 years of weather, landslides, vandalism, and general decay to explain the smashed skulls and whatnot.

This is an interesting enough story without invoking the Ice Cricket Alien Overlords.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:43 PM on May 24, 2013


When life hands you hailstones, make daiquiris.

Words to live by.
posted by maryr at 6:44 PM on May 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Is it wrong that the first thing I thought about was this Mike Myers sketch from the 1997 MTV Movie Awards?
posted by radwolf76 at 6:45 PM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I did but I guess I took the word ancient and figured that meant the song predated this event. I guess they think the song is an account? I wish they had been clearer. Art history - where ancient and 850 AD are not at all synonymous - bites me in the ass again.

Ah, you're right. The article doesn't say anything about how old the song they're talking about is reputed to be. I suppose I am generously assuming the writers did their homework there. It's a short little blurb about what must have been quite a bit of research after all.
posted by furiousthought at 6:52 PM on May 24, 2013


Among Himalayan women there is an ancient and traditional folk song. The lyrics describe a goddess so enraged at outsiders who defiled her mountain sanctuary that she rained death upon them by flinging hailstones “hard as iron.”
I can offer an alternate genesis for this folk song.

"Hey, so what happened to those outsiders what hired us to lead them through the mountains? I heard they died? Head trauma?"

"Uh, oh, yeah... uh, totally an angry goddess. And hailstones. Big 'uns."

"Ooohhhhh, I get it."
posted by gilrain at 6:55 PM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


The writers lifted most of the story from the Wikipedia page referenced in the footnotes, and presumably the rest of the story from the other two links which are now dead.
posted by ceribus peribus at 6:56 PM on May 24, 2013


Come on, y'all, I expect better Scooby skillz from you than this. Obviously, these were sentient hail stones.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:01 PM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


If they were pilgrims, then perhaps they were already standing in the water as part of some religious ceremony or rite, at the moment when the hail fell on their heads. They'd have been knocked unconcious, fallen underneath the surface of the water, which would have broken the fall (reduced the strength of impact) of subsequent hailstones, hence no additional injuries to the body.

Well, besides the drowning.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 7:01 PM on May 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


For the skeptical - here's a recent hailstorm in Oklahoma.

From personal experience with New England mountain weather, it can go from "Huh, hail?" to "FUCK, hail!" in a split second, much quicker than the video... and that's only cherry-sized hailstones. If you're caught out in a high mountain pass with few trees or bushes, with cricket-ball sized ice chunks hailing down on you with that force, well... unless you find a corpse to crawl beneath, you're dead.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:06 PM on May 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


I don't find a sudden fall of large hailstones to be inherently incredible as an explanation for a find like this, given that lethal hail happens now and then and, in the course of history, it has probably happened to small groups of people in remote locations where their remains will lie undisturbed for centuries until they're found.

However, I find it much more likely that the victims were herded to this location and/or suddenly set upon by another group who killed them exclusively, perhaps ritualistically, by blows to the head, and then left their remains there, perhaps for ritualistic or superstitious reasons. Because that sort of thing is much, much better attested in human history than mass death due to hailstorm.

Incidentally, for those who followed 445supermag's link and were incredulous at the photo and caption of a 15-foot accumulation of hail in Clayton, NM — what that actually shows is the end result of one or two 1-foot accumulations of hail during an early August storm (accumulations that are quite remarkable as it is) which, in the accompanying deluge, were washed down a ravine to some sort of temporary dam, then piled up to a height of 15 feet, and which the water afterward cut a channel through, leaving those 15-foot cliffs of ice. The ice sheet was about 100 yards long and 25 feet wide on either side of the channel. It took several weeks for it to melt away. New Mexico Geology wrote about it, available as a PDF here. It includes additional photos.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:35 PM on May 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's a little bit more on the scientific testing (and a discussion on the demographics of the skeletons) carried out in this newspaper article, but I'm not having a lot of luck tracking down the original publications.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:37 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a cool re-telling of the tale behind Roopkund viewable through Google Books here, from Where Gods Dwell: Central Himalayan Folktales and Legends.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:42 PM on May 24, 2013 [4 favorites]



posted by No-sword at 8:02 PM on May 24, 2013 [20 favorites]


Yeah, I have personally witnessed a hailstorm that dropped baseball sized stones. A cross section of one of the stones, photographed under polarized light to show the layers, was on the cover of Scientific American magazine. Oh man you should have seen what everyone's cars looked like after that storm, I am sure it could have killed someone who got caught out in it. In fact, I just happened to have some newspaper clippings about that in a weather notebook I did for science class assignment in elementary school. Here's a pic:

BASEBALL-SIZE HAIL REPORTED
Big Stones Kill 3 Hogs; Lines Down


You might notice my teacher's red pencilled remark "Label?" admonishing me for not putting a label on the page to explain what it is. I thought the headline at the top was self-explanatory.

Here is another page showing someone holding the stones, although it looks like the photographer was rather late and the stones were already halfway melted. I assure you, they were much bigger than this.

Hailstorm Here Shatters Windows, Pits Automobiles
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:58 PM on May 24, 2013


The doubt isn't that large hail can kill people, it's that it can do it while only inflicting head and shoulder trauma to all of its 200 victims. That seems very unlikely considering how, yes, devastating large hail can be.
posted by gilrain at 9:02 PM on May 24, 2013


If they had people carrying provisions, probably in some sort of leather packs.
you would think there would be remains of these also if there were leather sandals.
You would think there might also be pottery of some time for carrying
food items. I vote for the idea that some were killed and the rest packed out the goods.
posted by quazichimp at 9:03 PM on May 24, 2013


Here in North Texas, hail and heavy rain can definitely sweep through in seconds and for seconds. It's not usual, but it happens often enough. There has also been softball sized hail that killed a few people and injured many when it fell during a local outdoor festival.

In the mountains where any injury could mean death and the weather is even more unpredictable than here? Like once, ever? I have no trouble buying this, especially in the absence of any better ideas.
posted by cmoj at 10:03 PM on May 24, 2013


Hail to the Chief.
posted by salishsea at 11:19 PM on May 24, 2013


So it goes.
posted by Ardiril at 11:29 PM on May 24, 2013




that of 200 people, every single one would be instantly killed
Well the six hundred that left the scene dizzy and with bruises unfortunately didn't live to tell the tale...
posted by Namlit at 3:46 AM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Most references to "ancient" folksongs are bullshit because really, how can you prove it? That song could have been composed in 1976.
posted by spitbull at 3:55 AM on May 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


The writers lifted most of the story from the Wikipedia page referenced in the footnotes, and presumably the rest of the story from the other two links which are now dead.

Now the bigger mystery is, Who Killed Those Writers? Jinkies, Scoob!
posted by yerfatma at 6:27 AM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


The claim that "all the bodies had died in a similar way" makes me suspicious. Catastrophic accidents with large groups of people seem to tend to have people dying in a variety of often unpredictable ways. Wouldn't one expect some people to have been trampled? Drowned? Injured to subsequently die of exhaustion and exposure?

The hail-stone theory is roughly plausible but, if the cause of every death really is as specific as suggested, some form of mass murder still seems more likely on the face of it.
posted by howfar at 2:30 PM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


445supermag: "Sizes of objects used as references for Hail sizes:"

I recently did a Japanese to English translation for a very dry, scholarly compendium of information on active volcanoes in Japan, and was surprised to frequently see phrases like "volcanic blocks as large as human heads were scattered as far as 3km"
posted by Bugbread at 4:37 PM on May 26, 2013


No, this was much more likely a situation of avalanche + hypothermia + 1,500 years of exposure.
Cool Papa Bell, Ima gonna havta ask whether it was the avalanche or the hyperthermia that caused the round percussive head-wounds.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:51 PM on May 26, 2013


quazichimp:
If they had people carrying provisions, probably in some sort of leather packs.
you would think there would be remains of these also if there were leather sandals.
You would think there might also be pottery of some time for carrying
food items. I vote for the idea that some were killed and the rest packed out the goods.
Reed baskets make a lot more sense than leather packs, which are far more expensive to make. And pottery makes for good well-to-house water carrying, but horrible for long-distance luggage.

Mark me among the skeptics like jetlagaddict who also ask, if it's hail, why the ribs and limbs weren't damaged as well. Sounds more like the hallmarks of mass slaughter. I doubt most of us would have the calm consideration to pull the body of a writhing, freshly-dead friend over ourselves while being punished with life-threatening blows from the sky, but the injuries would be more widespread, unless they were aimed specfically at the head.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:59 PM on May 26, 2013


As far as mass murder goes, I'm only really spitballing from my reading/watching crime fiction and the like, but I'd think if it were ceremonial all the blows would have been delivered in the same place, and if it weren't there'd be damage to the forearms, etc. and that would show up in the remains. It's frustrating to not have more detailed source material to work from, but I want to assume the researchers had already considered the obvious causes and found these skeletons incongruous.
posted by furiousthought at 8:00 PM on May 26, 2013


Pretty obviously the work of ice para-elementals.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:38 PM on May 26, 2013


furiousthought: As far as mass murder goes, I'm only really spitballing from my reading/watching crime fiction and the like, but I'd think if it were ceremonial all the blows would have been delivered in the same place, and if it weren't there'd be damage to the forearms, etc. and that would show up in the remains.
Not if their hands were tied, which is the most reasonable way to control 100's of victims during a slaughter.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:17 AM on May 27, 2013


Clearly a gang hit. Smack upside the head and dump the bodies in the lake.
posted by salishsea at 9:21 AM on May 28, 2013


Can't tell if serious... because essentially, I think you're dead on.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:37 PM on May 28, 2013


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