National Geographic Daily News
A life-size model of the Iceman.

A life-size model of Ötzi the Iceman.

Photograph by Robert Clark, National Geographic

James Owen

for 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.

158 comments
william ness
william ness

I just watched a show titled Curse of the Otzi Iceman. It showed that everybody involved

in his discovery died suddenly (separately). Lastly, the guide died on the exact date 20 years later. 

Gary Burr
Gary Burr

He looks a little like Willie Nelson wonder if their dna might match..........

walter welch
walter welch

Intereting facts. Almost everyone can draw his/her own conclusion on this unusual discovery. My take would be the man was a self made intelectual. He probably practiced medicine in the local areas and lost one too many patients and paid the price.

Alexander Orona
Alexander Orona

wow, this guys life sucked bad! kinda makes me feel better about my own.lol

Makhach Urmasa
Makhach Urmasa

Haplogroup G is not from Middle East it is from Caucasus

Raju Seettharam
Raju Seettharam

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.

Tara Salman
Tara Salman

If he was infertile, how could he have descendents?

Soren James
Soren James

I think South Tyrol is in Italy, not Austria.

Eleazar Plasencia
Eleazar Plasencia

Es una pequeña venta al paso, que nos explica un mundo totalmente diferente al nuestro...

Bhaskaruni Narayana rao
Bhaskaruni Narayana rao

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.

Denise Bischoff
Denise Bischoff

I would be interested in knowing how some researchers came to the conclusion that the Iceman was infertile.

JoAnna Klein
JoAnna Klein

This is probably one of the most interesting science stories I've read in a long time. 

Ravisankarprasad Polisetty
Ravisankarprasad Polisetty

It is very interesting to know detailed facts about  an age old ice man ie. five thousand years back.

Ravisankarprasad Polisetty
Ravisankarprasad Polisetty

It is very interesting to know more about an age old  ice man ie.,about five thousand years back.

G G
G G

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.

Bryan Ramlakhan
Bryan Ramlakhan

its amazing to be able to know so much about something so long ago

Dale Dickinson
Dale Dickinson

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. 

Monica Sutherland
Monica Sutherland

I find this fascinating. Do the people who have been identified know they have this ancestor?  If so, what do they think?

Francoise Seguin
Francoise Seguin

To be able to get this kind of information from an ice Man is unbelievable and incredible. What will science do next.. 

Leonard Jackson
Leonard Jackson

It's must be a great feeling to have a relative that can be traced back that far.

Maria Theresa G.
Maria Theresa G.

They said he died in early spring or summer, how did he get frozen or preserved after he died?

Gary Cottrell
Gary Cottrell

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.

John Dawson
John Dawson

What can I say. It will take a while for all this info to sink in.

Carolyn Thomason
Carolyn Thomason

Awesome, today's technology is great to be able to tell who his descendents are.  Thumbs up guys!!!

Tom Wood
Tom Wood

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.

Robin James
Robin James

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... 

Claudia Kramer
Claudia Kramer

gap in the front teeth? seems that madonna is also a distant relative of good old oetzi


Patrick Park
Patrick Park

@Raju Seettharam but the question is, if this had been found in the 1700s, would people during that period have been grateful that the corpse was found in their era? Back then, muskets and amputations were high tech stuff for them. And in 2250, would future researchers be cursing us today for touching things with such "primitive" technology, like computers (in 2250, who knows what tech they might have!)?

Patrick Park
Patrick Park

@Raju Seettharam but the question is, if this had been found in the 1700s, would people during that period be grateful that the corpse was found in their era? And in 2250, would future researchers be cursing us today for touching things with such "primitive" technology?

Annika Raaen
Annika Raaen

@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.  

Patrick Park
Patrick Park

@Denise Bischoffprobs because his seminal vesicle was demented or missing, it is the organ that makes semen and makes reproduction possible

anne boad
anne boad

@G G Well. I suppose some would say that acupuncture is magic.

Nicholas Johnston
Nicholas Johnston

@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.

Rafael Bezerra
Rafael Bezerra

@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.

How to Feed Our Growing Planet

  • Feed the World

    Feed the World

    National Geographic explores how we can feed the growing population without overwhelming the planet in our food series.

See blogs, stories, photos, and news »

The Innovators Project

  • Teen Wonder: Taylor Wilson

    Teen Wonder: Taylor Wilson

    After achieving nuclear fusion at age 14, Taylor, now 19, is working with subatomic particles for solutions to nuclear terrorism and cancer.

See more innovators »

Phenomena

See more posts »

Latest News Video

  • How a T. Rex Packs for a Road Trip

    How a T. Rex Packs for a Road Trip

    The nation's most complete Tyrannosaurus rex specimen is taking a 2,000-mile road trip from Montana to its new home in Washington, D.C.

See more videos »

See Us on Google Glass

Shop Our Space Collection

  • Be the First to Own <i>Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey</i>

    Be the First to Own Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

    The updated companion book to Carl Sagan's Cosmos, featuring a new forward by Neil deGrasse Tyson is now available. Proceeds support our mission programs, which protect species, habitats, and cultures.

Shop Now »