The ice mummy of the primeval Aetzi. What have scientists learned 30 years later?

The ice mummy of the primeval Aetzi. What have scientists learned 30 years later?

On the cover is a reconstruction of what Aetzi looked like. Author: Johann Brandstätter / AKG / Profimedia.

Thirty years ago, the icy mummy of a man murdered some 5,000 years ago was discovered in the Ötztal Alps. The icy remains were preserved perfectly naturally by the sun, wind and sub-zero temperatures.

The find quickly became a sensation. Many books were written about Aetzi (or Ötzi), as the man was called, documentaries were made, and even one fiction film was made that recreated the life and manners of a man who lived in Neolithic Europe.

Today, Aetzi is being carefully cared for by researchers from the Archaeological Museum of South Tyrol in Bolzano, Italy. His body is kept in a special cooling chamber where a constant temperature of -6 degrees Celsius is maintained. Several times a year, his remains are sprayed with sterile water to create an icy protective “exoskeleton”, which ensures that the ice mummy remains in the same condition in which it was found.

Although three decades have passed since Aetzi was discovered, scientists continue to study it to uncover details of life in the Neolithic period.

Aetzi’s man: What was he like?

Aetzi was a wiry man of short stature, 165 centimeters. At the time of his death he was 45-46 years old.

The ice mummy of the primeval Aetzi. What have scientists learned 30 years later?

Scientists recreated the appearance of Aetzi: a man who lived more than 5,000 years ago.

Scientists found out that Aetzi was left-handed and wore size 39 men’s shoes. His eyes, which were surprisingly still preserved in his eye sockets, had long been thought to be blue, but genomic analysis showed that scientists were wrong. The man had brown eyes and dark brown hair, as well as a typical Mediterranean skin tone.

Aetzi had lactose intolerance and a rare genetic abnormality that prevented his 12th pair of ribs from forming. He suffered from cavities, intestinal parasites, Lyme disease, and pain in his knees, hips, shoulders and back. Sixty-one tattoos were found on his body. Most interestingly, they depict the wear and tear of his bones and joints, as well as acupuncture points.

During his life, Aetzi broke several ribs and his nose, and the grooves on his fingernails indicate that in the months before his death he had been physically stressed repeatedly, probably due to malnutrition. He was genetically predisposed to atherosclerosis. A CT scan confirms that this is the oldest known case of heart disease in the world. Other mummies were also found to have cardiovascular disease, but they were no more than 4,000 years old.

The ice mummy of the primeval Aetzi. What have scientists learned 30 years later?

More than 60 tattoos were found on Aetzi’s body, indicating problem joints and acupuncture points.

According to carbon dating, Aetzi lived around 3350-3110 B.C. Judging by his DNA signature, Aetzi was a descendant of Neolithic farmers who came through Anatolia (modern Turkey) 8,000-6,000 years ago, replacing European Paleolithic hunters and gatherers. His maternal genetic heritage no longer exists in modern populations, but his paternal lineage lives on in groups living on Mediterranean islands, especially in Sardinia.

When Aetzi was found, he was wearing only shoes, but many of his belongings were later found near the spot where his body had lain for 5,000 years. His shoes and outer garments were sewn from the skins of local sheep and goats. The shoes were stuffed with grass, which acted as socks. The sole was made of bear skin. The fur hat was also made of brown bear skin.

What kind of equipment did ice primeval use?

Aetzi passed through the Öztal Alps with a backpack on a wooden frame and a quiver of deerskin, inside which were arrows with bone tips. He also carried a flint dagger with an ash hilt and scabbard.

The ice mummy of the primeval Aetzi. What have scientists learned 30 years later?

Aetzi’s silicon dagger with scabbard.

In a birch bark container, similar to those still produced in the region, was coal wrapped in fresh maple leaves, which would allow him to make a fire quickly.

One of the most important accessories of this primitive man is a copper axe with a trapezoid-shaped blade. The blade is bound to the yew handle with cowhide straps. Such an axe in those days was an extremely expensive object.

What did Aetzi die of?

A few hours before his death, Aetzi ate wheat, deer meat and mountain goat. It must be said that it took 18 years for the researchers to analyze the contents of his stomach with a CT scanner. The study was complicated by the fact that the stomach was moved under the ribs, where the lungs are located.

The cut between the thumb and forefinger of the right hand indicates that Aetzi had received a stab wound several days before his death. It was an active defensive wound. He probably tried to grab the blade. This wound was still healing when he was hit by an arrow that damaged an artery on the back left side of his shoulder. As a result, Aetzi bled to death within minutes.

The ice mummy of the primeval Aetzi. What have scientists learned 30 years later?

Aetzi’s mummy on the operating table.

Examination of the mummy by doctors and pathologists also confirmed that the Iceman also had a significant brain hemorrhage, but experts disagree on its cause. Someone may have hit him in the head and finished him off. There is also the possibility that he fell and hit his head on a rock. Some scientists believe there is no conclusive evidence for any of these scenarios.

Judging by the analysis of the pollen and maple leaves Aetzi carried, he died in early summer. One theory claims that warm summer winds dried him out. It is also possible that the ice man survived because of low temperatures on the high mountain pass. This is evidenced by a well-preserved and dehydrated brain. It usually turns to liquid along with other organs a few days after death.

What were the bacteria and viruses in primitive man?

A study conducted by scientists from the University of Trento showed that Aetzi had three out of four strains of the bacterium Prevotella copri. This is very rare, because usually people can have only one strain of P. copri that overpowers the others, that is, it suppresses the other strains.

The ice mummy of the primeval Aetzi. What have scientists learned 30 years later?

Aetzi’s body is stored in a special cold room where a constant temperature of -6 °C is maintained.

Another discovery by scientists is that the Aetzi intestines contain the Helicobacter pylori bacterium, now found in half the world’s population and with serious or even fatal health consequences in about 10 percent of infected people. The dominant strain of H. pylori in Europe today is a hybrid of the Asian and African strains. Aetzi was found to have a purely Asian strain, suggesting that the African species arrived in Europe after its death. This has implications for the debate about whether H. pylori is a natural member of our intestinal flora or whether it should be treated with an antibiotic immediately after detection.

Another study of his gut microflora revealed a pathogenic strain of the ancestor Clostridium perfringens, which is a frequent cause of food poisoning today.

Such was the primitive man of Europe. In conclusion, I would like to point out that the research on Aetzi by scientists is still ongoing. If new information emerges, we will be sure to report it on our blog.

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