The Japan Times
September 27, 2000

'Iceman' is thawed out to probe origin, death

BOLZANO, Italy (AP) Scientists thawed out the "Iceman," removing samples of bone and tissue Monday from the 5,300-year-old mummy in hopes of determining where he came from and how he died.

The temperature in the refrigerated display case housing the Bronze Age hunter was gradually raised for 12 hours. Then, at 8 a.m., the mummy was wheeled into a sterile laboratory at the South Tirol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano.

For four hours, scientists garbed in operating scrubs scraped off enamel, chipped bones and snaked an endoscope into his intestines, harvesting samples for study at six research institutions and universities.

A forensic expert from the University of Glasgow will try to determine how he died by looking at bone and blood samples that could reveal whether he died a natural death or via an accident.

In Zurich, scientists will analyze lead and strontium deposits on his teeth — "chemical footprints" that can reveal more about his environment.

"We have no solutions but plenty of questions," Peter Vanezis, a forensic medicine specialist told journalists after the mummy was returned to his chilled case.

DNA tests will feature large in the new round of research into an ancient man who has provided a wealth of material.

Scientists in Italy and Britain will examine the "Iceman's" DNA and that of the microbes in his intestinal tract. The microbes could be a clue to what sort of food he ate, Italian anthropologist Franco Rollo said.

He said the DNA tests will also look at the mitochondria genome, which could reveal a common ancestry or genealogical continuity between inhabitants of the Alpine regions of 10,000 years ago and those living in the present.

Previous tests on minute amounts of DNA from the "Iceman's" lungs suggested that he suffered from a lung fungus that could have hastened his death.

Scientists will also try to learn if the crudely carved tattoos found on his ankles, knees and calves were an ancient form of acupuncture or were added after his death for some unknown reason.

Results of some of the tests carried out on the samples taken Monday should be known in around six months, said the research coordinator, Eduard Egarter Vigl.

The "Iceman" was found in a glacier in the Tirolean Alps on the Italian-Austrian border in 1991 by two German mountaineers.

He was first claimed by Austria and taken to Innsbruck. After a survey showed the discovery site was on the Italian side of the unmarked border, he was handed over to Italy.


A RESEARCHER takes samples from a 5,300-year-old mummy known as the "Iceman" at a laboratory in Bolzano, Italy, Monday. AP PHOTO