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Secrets of the Sky Tombs

(NOVA). 55 min. PBS. 2017. $24.99. ISBN 9781531700126.
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Gr 9 Up—The PBS series brings viewers to the high-altitude villages and ancient burial sites in the Himalayan Mountains in Nepal. Ancient sky tombs are set into the sides of cliffs, and intrepid adventurers/scientists perform extreme archaeology to access them, the crews rappelling to the sites. Like detectives, the archaeologists and laboratory specialists discover, date, and interpret the material and skeletal remains uncovered in the tombs. The archaeologists learn that many of the tombs are very ancient, with dates ranging back to 400 CE. Even older natural mummies from 400 BCE are also found. Archaeologists, biologists, and other specialists work together in search of answers to pressing questions, including the discovery of the origins of the Himalayan peoples. DNA evidence from the bones reveals that the ancient inhabitants of the Himalayas came from East Asia, although the region's location along the Silk Road allowed for a wide range of influences, such as those from India. Among the finds are an early Buddhist artifact and a death mask made of gold. Viewers will get an introduction to Buddhism in Nepal, including current and ancient burial practices, beliefs about the dead, and reincarnation. Educators should know that there are many images of human skeletons, as well as a discussion with an accompanying (nongraphic yet suggestive) visual of "sky burial," where the recently deceased are given over to vultures.
VERDICT The program will provide high school geography, history, and anthropology students with insights into Himalayan culture.

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