History : May-Jun 2019
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 19 studied corpses in history. Because his body was so well preserved, scientists have learned much from it about health, diet, disease, and genetics during the Copper Age. A remarkable amount about the Iceman’s body has been revealed because of advances in science. Samples of his DNA were taken from his pelvic bone in 2008, and his genome was sequenced. His genetic heritage was a common one for the period, born out of the great Neo- lithic migration that occurred from the Near East to Europe about 8,000 years ago. As far as scientists can tell, the descendants of such people long ago died out in mainland Europe. However, Ötzi still has living relatives: The DNA of many people on the Mediterranean islands of Corsica and Sardinia closely matches his. Living until 46, Ötzi was quite advanced in years for the time. He weighed just 110 pounds and stood around five feet three inches tall (his mummified body is shorter, as it shrank during the five millennia it spent frozen in ice). Tattoos covered parts of his body. Study of his tool kit and weapons reveals he was right-handed. He had brown eyes and shoulder-length dark brown hair. He had all of his teeth and very little body fat. The studies have also revealed much about his health. In common with many fellow Europeans at the time, who had only recently changed to farming livestock, Ötzi was likely lactose intol- erant and had a genetic predisposition to heart disease, which would have been exacerbated by a diet of fatty meat. The presence of the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi in his blood shows that he suffered from Lyme disease, contracted through being bitten by an infected tick. He also suffered from gum disease, gallstones, and arthritis. Ötzi’s possessions and clothes were also well preserved by the frigid environment on the gla- cier. Many of these items were made of mate- rials that are unlikely to survive in temperate conditions, so these rare artifacts yielded new insights into Copper Age culture and technology. Ongoing Inquiries Despite the huge strides in fleshing out Öt- zi’s life, researchers hope that more discoveries about him lie ahead. After the real circumstanc- es of Ötzi’s death came to light in 2001, scholars began asking more questions about the society in which the Iceman lived. How common was physical violence and murder in this part of the Alps more than 5,000 years ago? Scholars are also investigating more about Ötzi himself. His possessions may indicate what his occupation and social status were. Of partic- ular interest is where Ötzi and his people origi- nated and lived. The Alps may have been where he died, but archaeologists are still exploring if that region is where he lived most of his life. The following sections of this article will ex- plore in more detail what is known of the man whose death more than 5,000 years ago has cap- tured the imagination of the modern era: the discovery of his body; the clues to his murder; his tools and weapons; his health; his origins; and the theories about his last days on Earth. HOME, SWEET HOME The green valley and high peaks of the Alpine region of Ötztal (above) are where Ötzi died and most probably lived. RIEDMILLER/CARO PHOTO/CORDON PRESS SCIENCE WRITER ROSA M. TRISTÁN IS AUTHOR OF A BOOK ON THE UNESCO SITE OF ATAPUERCA IN SPAIN, WHERE EUROPE’S EARLIEST HUMAN REMAINS HAVE BEEN FOUND.