Reconstruction of the face of Ötzi

When Your Ancestral Forefather Is a Mummy: 19 Descendants of 5,300-Year-Old Ötzi the Iceman Identified In Austria

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Those who are lucky enough to have well-kept family records may be able to trace their history back several generations. Some can even track family connections going back a few centuries. But what if you were told that you are a descendant of a Stone Age man that was brutally murdered around 5,300 years ago? Such is the case for 19 males in Austria, who are known through DNA testing to be descendants of the famous Ötzi the Iceman mummy.

The well-preserved remains of Ötzi were found by German tourists in the Ötztal Alps on the border between Austria and Italy in 1991. Scientists thought the body, which showed evidence of head trauma, belonged to a fallen soldier from WWI but they were shocked when tests revealed that the mummy dates back to 3,300 BC. His body is in remarkable condition, considering its age, and still contains intact blood cells. Scientists were even able to determine the exact nature of his stomach contents, revealing that his last meal was deer with herb bread, wheat bran, roots and fruit.

The mummy of Otzi, as it was found

The mummy of Otzi, as it was found (vaxzine / flickr)

A DNA analysis revealed very precise details about Otzi’s health condition at the time of his death. He was at high risk of atherosclerosis, was lactose intolerant and is the earliest known human with Lyme disease.  But one of the more surprising findings of the analysis is that Ötzi has 19 known descendants that are still alive today.  Scientists could track the descendants based on a specific genetic mutation present in his DNA. 

"There are parts of the human DNA, which are generally inherited unchanged. In men, this lies on the Y chromosomes and in females on the mitochondria. Eventual changes arise due to mutations, which are then inherited further," said Walther Parson, the forensic scientist who carried out the study. "This is the reason why we can categorize people with the same people into so-called haplogroups."

Naturalistic reconstruction of Ötzi - South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology

Naturalistic reconstruction of Ötzi - South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology (Public Domain)

Parson explained that Ötzi belonged to the haplogroup G, the sub category G-L9.  This suggests that earlier people migrated to the Ötztal valley from Fließm -- a municipality in western Austria founded in the sixth century.

It is a remarkable feat of science to be able to identify living relatives of such an ancient man.

Top image: Reconstruction of the face of Ötzi the iceman (SW Claessen / flickr)

By April Holloway

Comments

What if these genetic mutations did not start with Otzi but his predecessors and the people who inheritted them are not his direct descendant but from the same group?

I had the same thought. If his grandfather had the those mutations then his cousins and their descendants would as well.

My haplogroup is G-M201, wonder how related could be to the GL of Otzi.

Anthony Adolph's picture

A couple of the comments above are correct when they question whether the genetic mutations prove that these 19 living people are Otzi’s descendants or not. What Walther Parson, the forensic scientist who releaesd the story, actually said was‘’These men and the Iceman had the same ancestors’. Otzi and these living men share the same genetic signature, indicating that they all had an ancestor in common. It is also POSSIBLE that some or all of these 19 men share the same signature because they are direct descendants of Otzi’s,  but this is not something which has or can (yet, if at all) can be proved. Therefore the  line  in the article above, ‘But what if you were told that you are a descendant of a Stone Age man that was brutally murdered around 5,300 years ago?’ goes far too far. Part of the problem here is a general use of rather vague terms about genealogy in the media. An ancestor is someone from whom you are descended, generation by generation, not just any dead human who happens to be related to you by cousinship. A descendant is someone with a direct bloodline going back to the person concerned and, again, not just any vague sort of cousin. The subject of Otzi the Iceman’s  genetic relationships to living people is a fascinating one and for the last couple of years I have been maintaining a web page relevant to the subject: https://anthonyadolph.co.uk/otzi-the-iceman/

 

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