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Sky Tombs of the Himalayas

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Genre: Factual
Production Year: 2016

Broadcaster: National Geographic, France 5, NOVA-WGBH
Producer: Sky Door Films, in association with Sky Vision Productions

The towering Himalayas were among the last places on Earth humans settled. We know this because humans need a special genetic adaptation to survive there and live permanently at the roof of the world. Scaling sheer cliff sides, a team of climbers and scientists hunts for clues to when the early people came to settle the forbidding landscape, where they came from, and how they adapted to survive the high altitude. Scattered across the dramatic cliff faces of the Mustang region of Nepal, thousands of cliff-top caves, which no modern humans have entered, could hold tombs embedded deep within the mountains. An expert team set out to find the ancient tombs. They discover caves filled with human bones and artefacts that date from 2,800 BC to 650 AD, including gold masks and Chinese silk. Yet some artefacts are enigmatic: half-burned sticks, one with a humanoid figured on it, and a ceramic block with daggers imprinted on it. These artefacts point to early death rituals and beliefs in zombies and vampires, designed to ward off the restless spirits of the dead. Each burial site they uncover is different from the next. Some of the early people de-fleshed the bones of their dead, others buried them whole, inside pits, and yet another culture laid their dead down on bunkbeds and the remains are now naturally-mummified due to the cold dry air. Who were these ancient mountain people and where did they come from? To answer this question, the scientists recover the most critical evidence of all: ancient human DNA. Not only does the DNA tell them about the early pioneers' origins, it points to a remarkable twist in the evolutionary story of modern Himalayan peoples. One of their genetic adaptations was passed on to them from another human ancestor, the Denisovans, found in a cave in the Altai mountains of Siberia. This proves that modern humans, homo sapiens, mated at some time in prehistory with a now-extinct hominid. Over nearly a decade, the filmmakers have documented every discovery in the Himalayan sky tombs, following the forensic evidence to labs in London, Oklahoma, Chicago, and France. The archaeological and genetic studies are unprecedented, using cutting-edge science to unlock the secrets of our past.

Available Episodes

  1. 1 Promo
  2. 2 Full Episode