Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Lessons From Ötzi, the Tyrolean Ice Man. Part I
Otzi is Europe's oldest natural human mummy, and as such, he's an important window into the history of the human species in Europe. His genome has been sequenced, and it offers us clues about the genetic history of modern Europeans.
Due to his amazing state of preservation, researchers have been able to learn a lot about Otzi's life. Based on an analysis of his tooth enamel and pollen grains found on his clothing, we know that Otzi grew up near the modern-day Italian village of Feldthurns, but later migrated to the valleys about 50 kilometers North of there (1). He was probably involved in copper smelting, judging by the high levels of copper and arsenic in his hair.
On the day he died, Otzi was wearing skillfully crafted leather shoes lined with grass, a leather coat, leggings, a loincloth, a bearskin hat, and a cloak made of woven grass. He also carried a valuable copper axe, a flint knife, a fire kit, a bow and flint-tipped arrows. Otzi was an affluent but rugged mountain man armed to the teeth!
Otzi died in an armed struggle while away from home. He was shot in the back by a flint-tipped arrow, which severed an internal artery and would have been fatal (2). His body was probably turned over by his killers, who retrieved the arrow (sans arrowhead). He also sustained a head wound, which may have been due to a fall or a deliberate blow. Unpublished DNA evidence suggests that his body had the blood of four other people on it-- two on an arrowhead, one on his knife, and one on his coat (3). Since he died outside his home territory, some have speculated that he was part of a raiding party. He likely killed or wounded several others and then was himself killed. Such was the life of prehistoric males.
In the next post, I'll describe Otzi's diet, and what we know about his health.