Otzi

What Did Scientists Learn From the Corpse of Otzi, the Iceman Hidden in the Alps?

The man hidden in the ice

One day, during the Copper Age, ages before Stonehenge and the pyramids, the so-called Otzi with a valuable copper axe was traveling across Val Senales Valley in South Tyrol. Unfortunately, he was murdered, and his body remained in the Alps for the next 5300 years. In 1991, a pair of German hikers discovered a mysterious corpse. It was Otzi’s preserved body, along with clothes and other belongings. The frozen mummy quickly became a global archaeological sensation and a research subject. To this day, he’s provided us with unique knowledge about the life of our early ancestors. However, there’s still much to uncover, and the research story on the iceman is far from over.

Reconstruction of Otzi
Reconstruction of Otzi

Life in the Copper Era

Historically speaking, the Copper Age was a time of many changes. Many culture groups populated the Alpine region, first trade routes, and communication between communities emerged. Otzi himself lived probably in South Tyrol; however, researchers didn’t find a Copper Age settlement there. Based on the iceman’s stomach analysis, where researchers found both meat and grains, they deduced that his community consisted of hunters and farmers. The traveller also had a wild plum packed; therefore, his people also occupied themselves with gathering. Moreover, metal extractions and smelting technologies enabled many innovative tools and new professions.

Otzi the iceman was found in the Alpes
The iceman was found in the Alpes

Surprising discoveries

Over almost 30 years, researchers thoroughly analyzed the mummy, using various techniques and methods. They even managed to do a digital reconstruction of Otzi. There are many secrets and surprises he revealed before us.

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Tattoos

Copper Age’s inking technique involved doing fine cuts on the skin and then infusing it with charcoal. Otzi was covered with 50 tattoos in total, mostly lines and crosses. Interestingly, most of them are in fragile, prone to pain places. Because of that, some scientists hypothesized that the tattoos marked acupuncture points. Acupuncture is one of the oldest forms of treatment. It involves sticking very fine needles in specific areas of the body, relieving the pain. Otzi’s quite advanced age and health problems additionally support the hypothesis.

Health problems

It was a bow arrow in the head that caused Otzi’s death. However, he had many additional health problems. Those include parasitic worms in his guts, lime disease, and high arsenic body levels (probably because of metalwork). His teeth also suffered from advanced decay and periodontitis (infection damaging soft tissues and causing the teeth to loosen up and eventually fall out). All in all, the iceman had over 40 health issues, including an abnormal growth on the toe, hardened arteries, and worn joints. For his times, he was an older man.

The mummy of Otzi the iceman
The mummy of Otzi the iceman

Anatomical abnormalities

In addition to many health issues, scientists also found several abnormalities in the iceman’s anatomy. He was missing the 12th pair of ribs and wisdom teeth. He also had diastema- a gap between his two front teeth. Scientists also suspect that he was infertile.

Living relatives

The study led by Walther Parson at the Innsbruck Medical University found an unusual GL-19 mutation on Otzi’s Y chromosome. They collected 3700 blood samples from anonymous donors and found 19 iceman’s relatives in the South Tyrol region. According to Parson, “iceman and those 19 people have a common ancestor who lived 10 to 12 thousand years ago”. Tracing the mutation, we can conclude that Otzi’s ancestors arrived in Europe from the Middle East, where farming was also born. The team concluded that changes in the Neolithic Era caused a migration that led people to Europe.

The place were Otzi the iceman was found
The place were the iceman was found

Further Research

Over the years, Otzi became a precious source of information. Scientists managed to analyze his lifestyle, culture group, health, and origin of his ancestors and even found his modern relatives. However, Otzi’s contribution to science is far from over. There are many ongoing studies regarding the iceman and probably many upcoming. For the general public, the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology provides a unique opportunity to experience his fascinating story.

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