New DNA Study Reveals Glacier Mummy's Medical Problems

A researcher inspects the 5,300-year-old mummy known as Oetzi, at the Archeological Museum of the Alto Adige in Bolzano, northern Italy, September 2000. (file photo)
A researcher inspects the 5,300-year-old mummy known as Oetzi, at the Archeological Museum of the Alto Adige in Bolzano, northern Italy, September 2000. (file photo)

European scientists say a recently completed DNA map of the Iceman - the well-preserved, 5,300-year-old mummy discovered in a melting Alpine glacier in 1991 - is yielding new details about the man's physical look, his ethnic origins and his health - including an apparent predisposition for heart disease.

The details are described in a new paper by scientists at the European Academy for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy, and at the Institute for Human Genetics in Germany. Among the key findings is that the Iceman, whom scientists have nicknamed Oetzi, was genetically at risk for heart disease, even though he was neither sedentary nor overweight. Researchers say that fact is significant because it shows that the cardiovascular condition existed more than 5,000 years ago, and therefore cannot be associated primarily with modern lifestyles.

In addition to his heart problems, Oetzi’s newly mapped genome reveals that he also suffered from the chronic tick-borne illness, Lyme disease, or borreliosis. The researchers say this is the earliest-known case of the bacterial infection, and provides proof that Lyme disease was present in the New Stone Age period.   

Oetzi also was lactose intolerant, meaning he could not digest milk products. The scientists say this finding supports the theory that lactose intolerance - which persists today in most Asians and Africans but affects few northern Europeans - was still a common condition in Oetzi's time, even though his people were becoming increasingly involved in farming and the domestication of dairy animals.

The researchers believe Oetzi’s ancestors likely hailed from the Middle East, and migrated to Europe as agriculture and cattle breeding continued to spread. They say the dwindling populations of modern-day Europeans who share the Iceman’s genetic heritage are found mostly in geographically isolated areas, such as the Mediterranean islands of Sardinia and Corsica.

Oetzi's new DNA map also has helped researchers reconstruct the physical appearance of the ill-fated traveler. They say he had brown eyes and long, wavy brown hair, which scientists believe would have been worn loose. He stood approximately 1.6 meters tall --an average height for a man during the New Stone Age - and he weighed an estimated 50 kilograms.

The analysis of the Iceman’s complete genome is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Earlier studies concluded that Oetzi died at the venerable age of 45. However, later examinations of wounds on the mummy suggested the Iceman was murdered, fatally shot in the back with an arrow and left to die on an Alpine glacier.

Many scientists believe that the high quality of the Iceman’s clothing and items he was carrying when he was killed, such as a fine copper axe, make it likely that Oetzi and his family had considerable social standing within their community.

Oetzi the Iceman's frozen corpse was naturally mummified in the spot where he fell dead, more than 600 years before the first bricks were laid in Giza for Egypt's Great Pyramid. Entombed under a deepening layer of snow and ice, the mummy remained undisturbed until 1991, when two German hikers happened on the partially exposed corpse while trekking through the Oetztal Alps, near the Italian border.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Ahmed Shihab
March 02, 2012 7:22 AM
science progress so rapid and we can't predict what discover tomorrow

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs