More secrets of the Tyrolean Iceman revealed

  • Updated: March 10, 2012 - 6:35 PM

A new reconstruction of the Tyrolean Iceman, in an undated handout photo.

Photo: South Tyrol Museum Of Archaeology, New York Times

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Since it was discovered in 1991, preserved in 5,300 years' worth of ice and snow in the Italian Alps, the body of the Tyrolean Iceman has yielded a great deal of information. Scientists have learned his age (about 46), that he had knee problems, and how he died (by the shot of an arrow).

Now, researchers have sequenced the complete genome of the iceman, nicknamed Oetzi, and discovered even more intriguing details: that he had brown eyes and brown hair, was lactose intolerant and had Type O blood.

The lactose intolerance makes sense, said Albert Zink, an anthropologist at the European Academy of Research in Bolzano, Italy, who was one of the authors of the study in the journal Nature Communications. "In early times, there was no need to digest milk as an adult because there were no domesticated animals. This genetic change took hundreds of years to occur."

But the scientists were surprised to find that Oetzi had a strong predisposition to heart disease -- which is often thought of as a modern problem, associated with rich food and limited physical exertion.

"If he wasn't shot with an arrow, it would have been possible that he might have had a heart attack soon after," Zink said. "Obviously this disease was present already 5,000 years ago. So now we can get a better understanding why such diseases develop."

Researchers also suspect Oetzi -- who can now be viewed at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano -- may have had Lyme disease, and further study could yield insight into the disease's origins.

NEW YORK TIMES

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