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Documentary Explores OU Study on Sky Tombs

Documentary explores an OU-led study and the first ancient DNA investigation of prehistoric peoples in the Himalayas.

Norman, Okla. — A NOVA documentary, “Secrets of the Sky Tombs,” on the ancient peoples of the Himalayans and the clues they left behind, is scheduled to air on Public Broadcasting Service Jan. 4, 2017. Based on a collaborative University of Oklahoma study and the first ancient DNA investigation of prehistoric peoples in the Himalayas, the documentary explores evidence discovered by the team of scientists in the world’s highest tombs. Until the OU-led study, little was known about the region, which was one of the last habitable places colonized by prehistoric humans.

Christina Warinner, senior author and professor in the Department of Anthropology, OU College of Arts and Sciences, and corresponding authors Anna Di Rienzo, Department of Human Genetics, University of Chicago, and Mark Aldenderfer, School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts, University of California, Merced, collaborated on the study published June 20, 2016, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences article, “Long-term genetic stability and a high altitude East Asian origin for the peoples of the high valleys of the Himalayan arc.”

The findings from the first ancient DNA study of the prehistoric populations of the Himalayan mountain range demonstrate that the genetic makeup of high-altitude Himalayan populations are uniquely adapted to life at high elevations and remained that way despite cultural transitions and exposure to outside populations through trade.

The NOVA documentary features OU graduate students Richard Hagan and Nisha Patel and OU faculty Christina Warinner and Courtney Hofman analyzing the prehistoric Himalayan remains at OU’s state-of-the-art Ancient DNA Laboratories in the Stephenson Research and Technology Center on the OU Research Campus. Watch “Secrets of the Tomb” at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/secrets-sky-tombs.html