Stone Age mummy still revealing secrets, 25 years on

September 18, 2016 by Simon Sturdee
Mummified in the ice, "Oetzi", as he was later nicknamed, was a sensation, providing invaluable scientific insights that 25 years later show no sign of abating

When police heard about the frozen corpse up in the Alps in September 1991, they opened a criminal probe. Murder it was, but the crime was rather old—and the ultimate cold case.

The dead man, found by hikers 25 years ago this week a snowball's throw from the Austrian-Italian border and put in a wooden coffin at a nearby police station, turned out to have died more than 5,000 years ago.

Mummified in the ice, "Oetzi", as he was later nicknamed, was a sensation, providing invaluable scientific insights that a quarter of a century later show no sign of abating.

"The iceman is without doubt one of the most outstanding mummy discoveries in the history of mankind," said Angelika Fleckinger, director of the museum in Bolzano, Italy, where the mummy is on display.

"It's a unique window into the prehistoric era, and gives us an incredible amount of information," she told AFP.

Shot in the back

To put it into perspective, when Oetzi died around 3,350-3,100 BC, Stonehenge in England and the first Egyptian pyramids were still hundreds of years from being built.

He lived during the Late Neolithic or Copper Age when mineral extraction and copper smelting, which spread to Europe from the Near East, was fundamentally transforming human society.

When an iceman named Oetzi died around 3,350-3,100 BC, Stonehenge in England and the first Egyptian pyramids were still hundreds of years from being built

Perhaps the resulting upheaval explains his still mysterious death. That he came to a sticky end was confirmed by the arrowhead lodged in his shoulder, only found in 2001, showing he had been shot from behind.

He would have bled to death in minutes and was possibly finished off with a whack on the head. He had at least had a large meal including barbecued ibex around 12 hours earlier, the contents of his stomach showed.

And his untimely demise high in the mountains meant for scientists that he was incredibly well-preserved, allowing detailed studies.

Unlike other ancient mummies, Oetzi is "damp", meaning there is still humidity in his cells and his body is untouched by funeral rites. Egyptian specimens are generally without brains and other organs.

The findings include that Oetzi was lactose intolerant and genetically predisposition to heart disease, as shown by his hardened arteries, something thought of before as a modern phenomenon.

The 30 types of pollen in his intestines and the isotopic composition of his tooth enamel suggest he lived just south of the Alps.

He was from a genetic subgroup now extremely rare in Europe but relatively common in Corsica and Sardinia, meaning that people there and Oetzi have common ancestors.

Albert Zink, director at the EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, said that studying the bacteria in his stomach could help advances in modern medicine.

A reconstruction of the iceman named Oetzi, who lived during the Late Neolithic or Copper Age, by Dutch experts Alfons and Adrie Kennis

For instance Oetzi's intestine contains H. pylori, a bacteria present in 50 percent of humans' guts today and which can lead to stomach ulcers or even cancer.

"Maybe this was a positive bacteria that helped with the digestion of raw meat and later turned into a pathogen," Zink told AFP. "Clinicians are very interested (in our research)."

Lean and tattooed

Oetzi was around 46 when he died, a good age for his time. And with not an ounce of excess fat, he must have been fit. He had brown eyes, a beard, long hair—and 61 tattoos.

But these were not ornamental but medicinal. They were where there were signs of wear, and correspond to pressure points used in acupuncture today.

Before Oetzi was discovered, it was thought this technique originated 2,000 years later in Asia.

What he did have though was an axe with a copper blade, which would have been a coveted object—the iPhone 7 of his day—as well as a wealth of other equipment.

This included a quiver of arrows, a dagger, two types of tree fungus, one probably for lighting fires and another medicinal, and a pencil-like tool for sharpening arrows.

Unlike other ancient mummies, Oetzi is "damp", meaning there is still humidity in his cells and his body is untouched by funeral rites

His clothing is also well preserved, including leggings and a coat made from goat hide, a hat of bear fur, shoes of tree bast netting, hay and deer skin, and even a backpack and possible cape.

All this, plus Oetzi himself inside a special air-conditioned container, can be seen in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, which attracts 260,000 visitors a year from the world over and where queues are often long.

"We could say that Oetzi has put Bolzano/Bozen on the map," said Roberta Agosti from the Bolzano tourism office. In fact a new, bigger museum is planned.

Tip of the iceberg?

And 25 years after his discovery, scientists continue to learn more things about Oetzi, helped by the advent of new technologies.

Indeed on Monday a major mummy congress begins in Bolzano revealing new findings including on the bacteria in Oetzi's stomach and the circumstances surrounding his death.

And one upside to global warming is that more treasures may be discovered, like the snowshoe found nearby that was recently revealed to be 500 years older even than Oetzi.

"People are more aware now that there could be more mummies in the mountains, and the melting of the glaciers makes us hope or maybe believe there could be more," Zink said.

Explore further: Replica of 5,000-year-old 'Iceman' made on 3D printer

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11 comments

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Anonym
5 / 5 (1) Sep 18, 2016
How is it that the body was placed under so much ice 5000 years ago? Or, was it warmer then than any time subsequent to the present?
rrrander
not rated yet Sep 19, 2016
Why weren't any of the "discovers" charged with stealing the Ice Man's member?
Anonym
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 19, 2016
@nkalanaga: The link was messed up. But if I understand you correctly, we are not experiencing "unprecedented," never-seen-the-like-before AGW caused by CO2, like we are being told. Because we are also told that CO2 levels haven't been higher in tens of millions of years. Last I heard, ALL of the rise in temperature is being ascribed to human-generated CO2. Forgive me please, but I doubt that climate science can distinguish a half-degree Celsius temperature rise over 5,000 years. We can only say that it was warmer in the past, anecdotally evidenced by the surfacing of long buried glacial artifacts, for reasons that no one (yet) understands. And that the ~2 watts per square meter of heating caused by an additional 100 ppm of CO2 since 1950 is NOT the primary driver of the warming that began 10,000 years ago; climate operates on a longer time scale than a few hundred years.
SamB
1 / 5 (1) Sep 19, 2016
In the more distant past, when CO2 levels were as high or higher than now, the Earth's temperature was also higher, as temperatures tend to lag CO2 levels.


I imagine that climate scientists know why the CO2 levels were higher in the distant past. If so, then could not the same phenomenon be happening today as well?
Mike_Massen
3 / 5 (2) Sep 20, 2016
SamB asked
I imagine that climate scientists know why the CO2 levels were higher in the distant past. If so, then could not the same phenomenon be happening today as well?
No. All the key aspects have been well studied, measured, tested, physics & math checked many times, it all boils
down to:- Radiative Heat Transfer & Psychrometry

Key factor that confirms CO2 is from human activities is its radiological signature, ie Fossil fuels are a bit more radioactive than CO2 emissions from plants & animals. ie there's a different isotopic ratio which matches that of oil, gas & coal and as I understand it is also a bit different than volcanic emissions too.

The major oil companies knew this in mid 1980's and confirmed even back then that emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels was changing the climate, its in the record, see this link:-

https://insidecli...e-models
Mike_Massen
3 / 5 (2) Sep 20, 2016
nkalanaga also replied to SamB with
It could, but none of the reasons given for the past are happening now. We do know that the increase in CO2 very closely matches the amount of fossil fuels burned, so that is the most likely explanation
Indeed and this mass of emissions is huge & some 3 years ago was estimated by the oil companies to be the equivalent of burning 230,000 Litres of petrol each & every second for 24hrs a day 7 days a week.

Since 2013 this figure has risen despite a slight reduction in rate of rise - it is still rising whilst CO2 retention is still over 100 years...

Psychrometry shows us CO2 lifts water vapour too which adds a large positive feedback making things worse.

Add to that the larger amount of N2O emitted which is an even more powerful greenhouse gase, this comes from over-use of nitrogen fertilisers and this is getting worse too as some food plants yield is declining due to higher CO2 means plants need even more water...

Mike_Massen
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 20, 2016
Anonym wrote
We can only say that it was warmer in the past, anecdotally evidenced by the surfacing of long buried glacial artifacts...
Re Oetzi, he was buried under ice shortly after he died not buried because it became warmer :/

ie. Clear evidence of significant glacial decline nearest equatorial regions at lower altitudes consistent with warming re Radiative Heat Transfer by CO2

Bear in mind there are slow long term reasons for enthalpy change
https://en.wikipe...h_cycles

These 3 cyclical moves sum in/out of phase, note graph on right.

Big problem of last ~150 years is massive Rate of Change (RoC) consistent with fossil fuel emission

Anonym says
.. additional 100 ppm of CO2 since 1950 is NOT the primary driver of the warming that began 10,000 years ago
Of course further confirming RoC ie Only CO2 !

Anonym
.. climate operates on a longer time scale than a few hundred years
So ? Its huge recent change + extrapolation !
huckmucus
5 / 5 (3) Sep 20, 2016
Anecdotal: Flew at 30k' in the 1960s and saw the crisp-line distinction between the edge of Earth and outer space. 20 years later, and now, I can still see that line on some days at 5k' and in the photos from outer space, but I can't see it from around 30k'. Just a rust-colored haze. I know Co2 is invisible, but the point here is this: Humans CAN affect the entire atmosphere. It's different. I've seen it. It's a small world. No, I wouldn't want to paint it, but still . . .

Just look at the photos of Earth from outer space at night and see all the lights. Then tell me the Earth is so big we can't really be causing any issues.

On the last point, doesn't science have certain types of cameras that see in a different spectrum that can show the pollution looking back from outer space? Thanks.

Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (1) Sep 21, 2016
huckmucus with pertinent post asked
On the last point, doesn't science have certain types of cameras that see in a different spectrum that can show the pollution looking back from outer space?..
Indeed but, gaseous pollutant's spectra sum, that overlap hard to discriminate a single chemical species. Nasa & satellite operators can offer detail, can you check ?

RSS has satellites which distinguish temps at many altitudes which also confirm Earth's changing gas mix retaining more heat, same as an insulating blanket as they confirm less heat flux leaving upper atmosphere to cold of space...

http://images.rem...ies.html

Note
Conjunction @ TLT-TMT temps rising with 40+Km @ C14 temps falling equals less heat leaving Earth :/

Fwiw
Many wouldn't class CO2 at current level as polluting but, I class it as a manageable threat specifically because atmospheric addition is high & still increasing, fact CO2 lifts H20 a problem re crop production :/
TrollBane
not rated yet Sep 21, 2016
No comment from @anti? Perhaps it's because this mummy has no basement...
dustywells
not rated yet Sep 21, 2016
In the more distant past, when CO2 levels were as high or higher than now, the Earth's temperature was also higher, as temperatures tend to lag CO2 levels.
While temperatures tend to lag CO2 levels in our current climate records, the following quote from http://www.nature...rep21691 states the reverse is true for paleoclimate.

"The causality analysis indicates that for the full 800,000 years time series PAT is indeed leading CO2 because of the significant IF from PAT to CO2."

PAT = paleoclimatological air temperature
IF = information flow in nat (natural unit of information) per unit time

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