October 26, 2011

Press release about Bolzano Mummy congress

A Rest, a Meal, Then Death for 5,000-Year-Old Glacier Mummy: Scientists Consolidate Results of Research Into Ötzi’s State of Health and His Death
There was broad agreement at the Bolzano Congress about the last hour of his life. Albert Zink, Head of the Institute for Mummy Research at EURAC, reports as follows about the circumstances of the Iceman's death: "He felt safe enough to take a break, and settled down to a copious meal. While thus resting, he was attacked, shot with an arrow and left for dead." There was no evidence pointing to a possible burial as some scientists have suggested in the past. "The position of the mummified body with his arm pointing obliquely upwards, the lack of any piles of stones or other features which often accompany burial sites, runs counter to the burial theory," he continues.

But there is still the problem of what was Ötzi doing up there, at a height of 3,200 metres? At the Bolzano Congress, the Innsbruck based scientists Andreas Putzer, Daniela Festi and Klaus Oeggl refuted the theory, first put forward in 1996, according to which Ötzi was a shepherd who had taken his herd to pastures high up in the mountains to graze during the summer months. According to the latest archaeological and botanical findings, there was no seasonal migration of cattle during the Chalcolithic period, the Copper Stone Age. The so called transhumance did not start until around 1500 BC.

Ötzi was not on the run. On the contrary, between 30 and 120 minutes before his death he had settled down to a hearty meal, as evidenced by stomach samples investigated by Albert Zink and his team this past summer. Goat meat, grains of corn, pieces of leaves, apples and flies' wings were clearly discernible under the microscope.


Since then, scientists from almost all disciplines have been investigating these samples from their own specific scientific angles using subject-specific methods: medics, nanotechnologists, anthropologists, biochemists, archaeologists and physicists. There are now over 100 "Ötzi researchers," and the Bolzano Mummy Congress represents a so far unique opportunity for them to discuss the present state of research face-to-face at a gathering which was specifically dedicated to the famous iceman.
This is all we are likely to get folks. It seems that Tyrolean Iceman week was a dud, and I have no doubt that the TV special today will be along the same lines, i.e., no real genetic information that we don't already know.

The 90% of the Iceman genome that has been sequenced will remain locked up. This will ensure that some of the "100 Ötzi researchers" will have the time to write their papers without fear of competition, and that the journals that will publish them will have the exclusivity necessary to make a profit. Only losers: (a) the public in several nations, which makes possible, directly or indirectly this type of research, and (b) Science, which must take second place behind more ephemeral concerns.


mooreisbetter said...

Is it possible that Oetzi's cause of death was something far more prosaic than anyone thought?

Humans a couple thousand years ago, were, um, human.

Is it possible he was just going for a stroll and that there was a hunting accident?

Anonymous said...

It could not have been an accident, after the arrow Otzi was beaten on the head, he has the skull and a cheekbone fractured.
This is what this is what researchers have said.

j1smith said...

I would like to know more about the flies' wings. Was he really eating flies? Do we know of any people that made a practice of eating flies? Were they ingested by accident?

eurologist said...

The NOVA program was a big disappointment. Not only was there nothing new, but also a bunch of exaggerations trying to make it more splashy.

The worst part was the continuous juxtaposing of agriculture versus hunting. People in that area had agriculture for 2,000 years (it didn't "just arrive" as stated in the film) - that is a very long time and surely, the society had very specific assignments and roles, with any hunters being fully integrated, even if they were full-time hunters. Even Ötzi's last meal (includes Einkorn) suggests as much, also his copper axe.

Dienekes said...

Agreed, it catered to the CSI crowd, and its archeology was simplistic.

pconroy said...

Yeah, big, big disappointment!

Skip Taylor said...

Grains of corn? I believe corn wasn't introduced to Europe until the 15th or 16th century.