Ice mummy mystery thawed out

Nine years after the world's oldest iceman was discovered by hikers 10,000 feet above the Austro-Italian border, a group of scientists have thawed the mummy to carry out research on his remains. Otzi, so called for the valley where he was discovered in a remote corner of the Similaun Mountains, lived between 3350 and 3100 BC, making him the oldest mummy ever found.

Naturally preserved in ice, Otzi may have fallen asleep in a blizzard and been quickly covered in snow, scientists believe. Perfectly preserved for five millenniums, he was frozen with an array of tools, equipment, and clothing that have offered researchers a rich and detailed view of pre-historic life.

Unraveling the mystery of the iceman's life experiences has not been as easy. Seeking clues, researchers at the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology in Italy raised the temperature inside Otzi's climate controlled environment from 21.2 degrees Fahrenheit up to 35.6 degrees to thaw him.

A variety of experiments will be carried out with hopes of better understanding the food Otzi ate and even the cause of his death. Most researchers agree that he died of exposure, but there are signs of broken ribs and perhaps some external injuries. Through analysis of fatty tissue and skin from Otzi's back and front, researchers may be able to determine if he was on his back or lying face down when he died. A natural death would seem more likely if he was lying on his back.

Another group of scientists will look at the mummy's DNA to start a gene bank of the area. A third group will study microorganisms found in his intestines to determine the food he ate, and a fourth group will look at the enamel on the teeth of his upper right jaw, which should reveal clues about his childhood diet.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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