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Sonderbooks Book Review of

Secrets of the Sky Caves

Danger and Discovery on Nepal’s Mustang Cliffs

by Sandra K. Athans


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Secrets of the Sky Caves

Danger and Discovery on Nepal’s Mustang Cliffs

by Sandra K. Athans
Review posted October 27, 2014.
Millbrook Press (Lerner), Minneapolis, 2014. 64 pages.

Shades of Indiana Jones! Here’s a nonfiction book about modern archaeology, complete with danger, religious artifacts, wall murals, ancient manuscripts, and plenty of human remains.

In the Mustang region of Nepal, nestled high in the Himalayas near Mount Everest, high in the soft stone of the cliffs are thousands of caves, where ancient people used to make their homes, probably to escape fighting over the Silk Road.

This book details recent expeditions to explore the caves. Pete Athans, American world-class mountain climber, led the expedition, and brought along his wife Liesl Clark, who is also a world-class mountain climber, and their two children. The children have set a record as the youngest outsiders to enter the district of Mustang. Pete Athans’ sister is the author of the book.

Pete Athans has climbed Mount Everest, but the Mustang cliffs, with their brittle rock faces, are perhaps even more dangerous.

The photographs in the book are many and varied. The story of the exploration is fascinating as they had to use mountain-climbing techniques to uncover these cave cities – and then found artifacts like an ancient mural, thousands of pages of an old manuscript, ancient pottery, and even human and animal remains.

Scientists study the different artifacts in different ways, and for each step, permission was needed from the government of Nepal. A scholar who could read ancient Tibetan was needed for the manuscripts. A geneticist who can extract DNA was needed for the human remains. And of course archaeologists are involved in uncovering the rich artifacts buried in the tombs. And all the scientists have to learn rock climbing to access the finds.

This book is sure to get kids interested in archaeology, as well as the many other areas of science involved in learning about the ancient past. Or perhaps exploration and rock-climbing.