Science News

Ancient iceman probably has no modern relatives

The world's oldest mummy, the Italian Iceman known as Otzi, is shown in this undated file picture. REUTERS/Werner Nosko

LONDON (Reuters) - “Otzi,” Italy’s prehistoric iceman, probably does not have any modern day descendants, according to a study published Thursday.

A team of Italian and British scientists who sequenced his mitochondrial DNA -- which is passed down through the mother’s line -- found that Otzi belonged to a genetic lineage that is either extremely rare or has died out.

Otzi’s 5,300-year-old corpse was found frozen in the Tyrolean Alps in 1991.

“Our research suggests that Otzi’s lineage may indeed have become extinct,” Martin Richards of Leeds University in Britain, who worked on the study, said in a statement.

“We’ll only know for sure by sampling intensively in the Alpine Valleys where Otzi was born.”

The findings published in the journal Current Biology reverses previous research from 1994 on a small section of Otzi’s DNA that suggested the so-called “Iceman” had relatives living in Europe.

But Richards and colleagues said their analysis confirmed that Otzi belonged to a previously unidentified lineage that has not been seen to date in modern European populations.

Scientists were thrilled to find Otzi’s mummified body had remained frozen, and so almost perfectly preserved, for more than 5,000 years.

An arrowhead was found in his left shoulder, suggesting Otzi did not simply freeze to death while climbing the high mountains. Evidence shows he was likely a hunter.

Reporting by Michael Kahn; Editing by Maggie Fox and Richard Williams