Photograph by Robert Clark, National Geographic
Published October 16, 2013
A report that Ötzi the Iceman has 19 genetic relatives living in Austria is the latest in a string of surprising discoveries surrounding the famed ice mummy. Ötzi's 5,300-year-old corpse turned up on the mountain border between Austria and Italy in 1991. Here is a rundown of the latest on the world's oldest Alpine celebrity, and some of the other remarkable things we've learned about Ötzi.
(Read "Unfrozen" from the November 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine.)
1. The Iceman has living relatives.
Living links to the Iceman have now been revealed by a new DNA study. Gene researchers looking at unusual markers on the Iceman's male sex chromosome report that they have uncovered at least 19 genetic relatives of Ötzi in Austria's Tyrol region.
The match was made from samples of 3,700 anonymous blood donors in a study led by Walther Parson at Innsbruck Medical University. Sharing a rare mutation known as G-L91, "the Iceman and those 19 share a common ancestor, who may have lived 10,000 to 12,000 years ago," Parson said.
The finding supports previous research suggesting that Ötzi and his ancestors were of farming stock. The study used Y-chromosome markers that are passed from father to son to trace the Neolithic migrations that brought farming to Europe via the Alps. Ötzi belonged to a Y-chromosome group called haplogroup G, which is rooted, like farming, in the Middle East.
The study's overall results fit the idea that the changes of the Neolithic Revolution spurred people westward into the Tyrol region, Parson said.
He is nevertheless wary of any suggestion that Ötzi's distant relatives might be a chip off the old block, either physically or in their liking for simple grain porridge.
2. He had several health issues.
Since Ötzi's discovery in an alpine glacier more than two decades ago, scientists have subjected his mummy to a full-body health check. The findings don't make pretty reading. The 40-something's list of complaints include worn joints, hardened arteries, gallstones, and a nasty growth on his little toe (perhaps caused by frostbite).
Furthermore, the Iceman's gut contained the eggs of parasitic worms, he likely had Lyme disease, and he had alarming levels of arsenic in his system (probably due to working with metal ores and copper extraction). Ötzi was also in need of a dentist—an in-depth dental examination found evidence of advanced gum disease and tooth decay. (See video: "Iceman Autopsy.")
Despite all this, and a fresh arrow wound to his shoulder, it was a sudden blow to the head that proved fatal to Ötzi.
3. He also had anatomical abnormalities.
Besides his physical ailments, the Iceman had several anatomical abnormalities. He lacked both wisdom teeth and a 12th pair of ribs. The mountain man also sported a caddish gap between his two front teeth, known as a diastema. Whether this impressed the ladies is a moot point—some researchers suspect Ötzi might have been infertile.
4. The Iceman was inked.
Ötzi's frozen mummy preserves a fine collection of Copper Age tattoos. Numbering over 50 in total, they cover him from head to foot. These weren't produced using a needle, but by making fine cuts in the skin and then rubbing in charcoal. The result was a series of lines and crosses mostly located on parts of the body that are prone to injury or pain, such as the joints and along the back. This has led some researchers to believe that the tattoos marked acupuncture points.
If so, Ötzi must have needed a lot of treatment, which, given his age and ailments, isn't so surprising. The oldest evidence for acupuncture, Ötzi's tattoos suggest that the practice was around at least 2,000 years earlier than previously thought.
5. He consumed pollen and goats.
The Iceman's final meals have served up a feast of information to scholars. His stomach contained 30 different types of pollen. Analysis of that pollen shows that Ötzi died in spring or early summer, and it has even enabled researchers to trace his movements through different mountain elevations just before he died. His partially digested last meal suggests he ate two hours before his grisly end. It included grains and meat from an ibex, a species of nimble-footed wild goat.
I'm glad the Ice Man was found in our modern era with so much technology and scientific knowledge that we get all these interesting information about a fellow human who lived thousands of years ago. If only by some incredible chance som even older human remains are found as well preserved it will make knowledge grow by leaps and bounds.
It is really interest to learn so much of information about the Iceman, whose mummy of more than 5000 years back. Above and all, the details about his medical problems, explored by present day medicos is equally fantastic and commendable.
I would be interested in knowing how some researchers came to the conclusion that the Iceman was infertile.
It is very interesting to know detailed facts about an age old ice man ie. five thousand years back.
Well, instead of the tattoos representing acupuncture points, is it possible that they instead were "magical" or represented some type of protection on those areas against pain or injury? Maybe they are over acupuncture points, I would like to see more information that solidifies that idea.
Everything that I've read about Otzi suggests that he was a murderer. It appears that he was chased from at least one other village as well. He was hunted down and executed for his last round of crimes.
I find this fascinating. Do the people who have been identified know they have this ancestor? If so, what do they think?
To be able to get this kind of information from an ice Man is unbelievable and incredible. What will science do next..
So interesting, this story of a man from a time long ago who stepped out of a refrigerator and right into our lives. I'm looking forward to the next release of information on Otzi.
Sounds like some people I have met in my past as a child. Maybe we art not as distant from our primitive past as we think we are.
Why didn't they put the tattoos on the "life sized model" to match item #4 in the article?
The last point of item #3 is funny as perhaps the researchers forgot that they found this guy packed in ice and that would make for some major shrinkage as far as reproductive organs are concerned...
Since his initial discovery, I have been fascinated by Otzi (enough to write ('DaFlikkers' on blogspot), about his extraordinary life, His resilience, his talents and survivability in an age of notably warmer temps, preceding Priora Oscilation (which sealed him in for over 5k yrs). A time when the average life span was likely about 12-14, Otzi was obviously a survivor, in spite of his ailments. Dependency addiction is obviously Not in his genetics.
A reality show would be stressed to depict his daily life, his knowledge of metallurgy, engineering, chemistry, nutrition and medicinal expertise are all indicative of self sufficiency and no nonsense survival of the fittest. All rare and recessive traits in today's pampered world.
I also love his artist's depiction. He appears weathered with chiseled features extremely hardened by his competitive life, yet powerful, skilled and well armed to put up a fight to the death for survival. Traits myself (Germanic-French-Anglo-Saxon decent) and countless others happily share to this day :>)
Great story! Keep us informed. Why anonymous blood donors? I would gladly fess-up to know if I had a match.
I followed this story very closely, even read few books on it but reading this updated story on his genes and stuff is pretty amazing.
I always thought, from former conclusions about him, that he escaped and froze to death, but looks like they followed up and finished him off. Fascinating stuff.
@Tara Salman They don't say he had direct descendents. They used the wording "genetic relatives" several times at the very beginning, and that Otzi and the modern men share a common ancestor from 10-12,000 years ago.
@G G Well. I suppose some would say that acupuncture is magic.
@Dale Dickinson I often wonder if they have completed a thorough search of the land around him, perhaps they could find some copper age arrows or tools, I agree the tattoos and the and the arrow in him could point to some kind of tribal matters that are frowned upon.
@Dale Dickinson You're kidding.
@Monica Sutherland I've read something that they will not be informed about that since it wouldn't lead to no further conclusion. Guess it was on some Bing News app source.
@Maria Theresa G. High altitude mountain pass, so it stayed cold. He was frozen in a glacier until recently.
@Carolyn Thomason Not descendants, cousins.
@Muthukal Appan They know it is a modern man. No where in this article does it call him Neanderthal or Cro magnon.
But that is not really the point of your post is it? You just like to fuss and argue because that is who you are.
@Blogen Geezer I always love it when the Right distorts Science to support their Neanderthal concepts. It is Community and Communication that allow us to be Individuals. Go to Chicago and bragged about Pampered World , when you are beaten crawl into a ditch and repair yourself. This is weird thinking that wants to sink ACA , that every other Western country benefits for decades. Have you actually read Darwin, fittest refers to Adaptable not rugged individuals? Could you turn in your library card, get off our Socialist roads? There is reason we left the Nineteenth Century and have FDA.
I love it when the Right distorts Science to support their weird thinking. Community and Communication is what allows us to be Individuals. These are folks who work to sink ACA, a benefit that every other Western Country has. Go to Chicago and brag about your Rugged individuality and pampered society. When you are beaten drag yourself into a ditch and repair yourself . Could you return your library card, and O yes, get off our socialist roads?
@Blogen Geezer Not mentioned in this article that you may also be interested in was the fact that this was the first find of its kind of a fully intact quiver. Also found on his person, was a leather pouch containing what is believed to be mushrooms. At the time of his death, these mushrooms would have been in a mold state suggesting he was using them as a natural antibiotic. Also, the high levels of arsenic is from a by product of moltened copper, nearly 1500 yrs. earlier than was thought to be discovered. Without written word, it may be difficult to discern, but we know that mankind had the intellect to make such discoveries on their own. They essentially as intelligent as we are now, just didn't have the ability to read, write, mostly vocalization. They were learning. Stories and word was past down from one generation to the next. Family was of ultra importance, how this stuff was learned, for one, and the basic ingredient of government, sociology, and politics. Does not surprise me that there are his relatives still living in the area. Usually the case. See 'The Cheddar Man' from Cheddar, England.
@M. Cornwell Still a wonder if he was indeed "finished off", why would they leave him with all that valuable stuff? The axe alone have been a huge prize. Unless it was done by people from his own village/tribe that did not want to be caught with his belongings.
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