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October 7 2012

Sky Caves of Nepal: Cliffside caves in the former kingdom of Mustang are giving up their secrets.

The skull, a human skull, was perched atop a crumbly boulder in the remote northern reaches of the Nepalese district of Mustang. Pete Athans, the leader of an interdisciplinary team of mountaineers and archaeologists, stepped into his harness and tied himself to a rope. He scrambled up the 20-foot boulder, belayed by another climber, Ted Hesser.

When he reached the skull, he pulled on blue latex gloves to prevent his DNA from contaminating the find, and gradually removed it from the rubble. Athans was almost certainly the first person to hold this skull in 1,500 years. Dirt spilled from the eye cavities. He placed it in a padded red bag and lowered it to three scientists waiting below: Mark Aldenderfer of the University of California, Merced; Jacqueline Eng of Western Michigan University; and Mohan Singh Lama of Nepalís Department of Archaeology.

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