• The Himalayas contain many unique and ancient cultures. Recently, a team of researchers and mountaineers led by archaeologist Dr. Mark Aldenderfer began unraveling mysteries surrounding peoples who lived thousands of years ago in the caves of Nepal's Upper Mustang region.

    Aldenderfer led a 20-day expedition to the Upper Mustang to explore mysterious communal graves discovered in the 1990s. The skeletons and burial artifacts were found in caves on the sides of cliffs. To identify possible burial sites, Aldenderfer and his team, including bioarchaeologist Dr. Jackie Eng and seven-time Everest climber Pete Athans, combed the region for deep caves on the brink of collapse. The bones that Aldenderfer's team collected, thought to be the mysterious Membrak people, were then cleaned, pieced together, and analyzed.

    This video is about scientists re-curating scientific finds 20 years after they were discovered. Technology has changed, and now, rather than testing for DNA in the marrow of leg bones, scientists tend to search for DNA using teeth. Why are teeth more reliable? Why do scientists test for DNA in the first place? The video helps answer these questions, as well as provide scientists with dates procured through carbon dating.

    The Himalayan mummies studied in this video are naturally mummified corpses, not mummies in the Egyptian sense where the deceased are embalmed in a complex series of rituals and procedures. The Himalayan mummies were naturally preserved by the dry mountain air and protection of the caves in which they were buried.

    1. Where do all the missions that take place in Nepal begin?

      All missions begin in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu.

    2. What source does Dr. Mark Aldenderfer use to collect DNA?

      Dr. Aldenderfer collects DNA from teeth.

    3. How are these Nepalese remains unique?

      The remains are naturally mummified and therefore incredibly intact for their age.

    4. How many individuals were exhumed from the site? How old were they when they died?

      Forty individuals were exhumed from the site. Three were children less than six years, including one neonate (less than six months old).

    5. How long did the Membrak people occupy the Mustang region? What does this suggest about their ability to live there?

      Carbon dating of the mummies revealed that the Membrak occupied the Mustang region of Nepal for about 450 years. Scientists believe they were well-adapted to be able to live in a high, dry climate.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    anthropology Noun

    science of the origin, development, and culture of human beings.

    Encyclopedic Entry: anthropology
    archaeology Noun

    study of human history, based on material remains.

    Encyclopedic Entry: archaeology
    DNA Noun

    (deoxyribonucleic acid) molecule in every living organism that contains specific genetic information on that organism.

    field work Noun

    scientific studies done outside of a lab, classroom, or office.

    Encyclopedic Entry: field work
    forensic archaeologist Noun

    person who excavates and studies the remains and artifacts surrounding areas containing graves, or sites of murder or genocide.

    mummy Noun

    corpse of a person or animal that has been preserved by natural environmental conditions or human techniques.

    paleontology Noun

    the study of fossils and life from early geologic periods.

    Encyclopedic Entry: paleontology
    radiocarbon dating Noun

    to estimate the age of an organism by tracking the decay of the isotope carbon-14. Also called carbon-dating.

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