A new look for Ötzi the Iceman

Ötzi as re-imagined in 2011: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology

The photo below is the accepted image of Ötzi, the 5,300 year old body found in the ice of the Otztal Alps. He is shown looking like a modern European human with light-coloured skin, light eyes, long hair and a beard. But a new study published in the journal Cell Genomics suggests that he may have looked quite different!

Ötzi died after being shot in the back with an arrow by an unknown assailant in one of the world’s oldest murder mysteries. His mummified body was found in 1991 in a glacier on the borders of Austria and Italy, and his remains can be seen in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano.

In 2011, the image with which we are now familiar was reconstructed by palaeo-artists Adrie and Alfons Kennis. However, new genetic analysis suggests he was more likely to have had dark skin , dark eyes and a tendency to baldness. Anthropologist Albert Zink, head of the Eurac Research Institute for Mummy Studies in Bolzano, explained “It was previously thought that the mummy’s skin had darkened during its preservation in the ice, but presumably what we see now is actually largely Ötzi’s original skin colour.” He added: “It’s the darkest skin tone that has been recorded in contemporary European individuals.”

Ötzi probably looked similar to his mummified state with dark skin and a bald head: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/SWNS

Genetic profiling also originally suggested that Ötzi was descended from a mix of native hunter-gatherers, migrating farmers from Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) and Steppe herders from Eastern Europe. The new results find no link to the Steppe herders and scientists have since discovered that the original samples had accidentally become mixed up with modern DNA. There is also very little hunter-gatherer DNA and Ötzi’s ancestors were more likely to have been Middle Eastern farmers. The research team concluded that Ötzi came from a relatively isolated Alpine farming population that had very little contact with other European groups.

Elisabeth Vallazza, director of the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, explained: “The famous figure in the museum was created in 2011, based on research that had been conducted at that time. It is an attempt at interpretation, a suggestion of how we imagined the Iceman might have looked during his lifetime. The main purpose was to show that Ötzi was similar to a modern human – middle-aged, tattooed, wiry, weathered, a person like you and me.”

”There are currently no plans to revise the reconstruction” she added.

Text     Alun Harvey


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