Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Ötzi the Iceman


The attire of the Tyrolean Iceman, a 5,300-year-old natural mummy from the Ötzal Italian Alps, provides a surviving example of ancient manufacturing technologies. Research into his garments has however, been limited by ambiguity surrounding their source species. Here we present a targeted enrichment and sequencing of full mitochondrial genomes sampled from his clothes and quiver, which elucidates the species of production for nine fragments. Results indicate that the majority of the samples originate from domestic ungulate species (cattle, sheep and goat), whose recovered haplogroups are now at high frequency in today’s domestic populations. Intriguingly, the hat and quiver samples were produced from wild species, brown bear and roe deer respectively. Combined, these results suggest that Copper Age populations made considered choices of clothing material from both the wild and domestic populations available to them. Moreover, these results show the potential for the recovery of complete mitochondrial genomes from degraded prehistoric artefacts.

Concepts: DNA, Deer, Elk, Clothing, Uniform, Ötzi the Iceman, Clothing material


The Tyrolean Iceman is an extraordinarily well-preserved natural mummy that lived south of the Alpine ridge ~5,200 years before present (ybp), during the Copper Age. Despite studies that have investigated his genetic profile, the relation of the Iceman´s maternal lineage with present-day mitochondrial variation remains elusive. Studies of the Iceman have shown that his mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) belongs to a novel lineage of haplogroup K1 (K1f) not found in extant populations. We analyzed the complete mtDNA sequences of 42 haplogroup K bearing individuals from populations of the Eastern Italian Alps - putatively in genetic continuity with the Tyrolean Iceman-and compared his mitogenome with a large dataset of worldwide K1 sequences. Our results allow a re-definition of the K1 phylogeny, and indicate that the K1f haplogroup is absent or rare in present-day populations. We suggest that mtDNA Iceman´s lineage could have disappeared during demographic events starting in Europe from ~5,000 ybp. Based on the comparison of our results with published data, we propose a scenario that could explain the apparent contrast between the phylogeographic features of maternal and paternal lineages of the Tyrolean Iceman within the context of the demographic dynamics happening in Europe from 8,000 ybp.

Concepts: DNA, Biology, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Population genetics, Mitochondrial Eve, Matrilineality, Ötzi the Iceman


In particular five polypore species, i.e. Laetiporus sulphureus, Fomes fomentarius, Fomitopsis pinicola, Piptoporus betulinus, and Laricifomes officinalis have been widely used in central European folk medicines for the treatment of various diseases, e.g. dysmenorrhea, hemorrhoids, bladder disorders, pyretic diseases, treatment of coughs, cancer, and rheumatism. Prehistoric artefacts going back to over 5,000 years underline the long tradition of using polypores for various applications ranging from food or tinder material to medicinal-spiritual uses as witnessed by two polypore species found among items of Ötzi, the Iceman.

Concepts: Medicine, Fungus, Fomitopsidaceae, Fomes fomentarius, Ötzi the Iceman, Polypore, Laetiporus, Amadou


BACKGROUND AND INTRODUCTION: In 1991, a deceased human male was found frozen in a glacier pool in the Italian Alps in north west Italy, and is now carefully preserved in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, in Bolzano, Italy. The bodily tissues of the 5,300 year old male (colloquially referred to as the Iceman or Ötzi) were well preserved despite damage related to freezing, and glacial movement. Associated articles of well-preserved clothing, tools, weapons and other devices were also present and have been studied in detail. Clinical examination and imaging investigations have also shown that the Icemen had experienced possible illnesses in his lifetime and had identifiable areas of arthritis and musculoskeletal injury. This report includes some key observations on the musculoskeletal state of Ötzi and reference to the involvement of tattoo markings. Some aspects about the aetiology of his abnormalities and inflammatory arthritis are considered along with possible treatments that he might have employed. METHODS AND RESULTS: We (WFK and MK) undertook a clinical musculoskeletal examination of the Iceman, details of which with available photographs and radiographic imaging pertaining to the musculoskeletal findings of the Iceman are reported here. The skin of the Iceman has numerous linear carbon tattoos, which are not of a decorative type. These have been presumed to possibly be “medicinal” tattoos administered for therapeutic reasons and may have been used in acupuncture-like treatment of pain. Spinal imaging identified areas of spinal damage and our observations have provided clues as to possible sites of spinal initiated pain and hence sites for administration of the “medicinal” tattoos. We observed body areas of the Iceman, in which imaging demonstrated arthritis and other forms of long-term musculoskeletal damage, but which do not have adjacent or corresponding “medicinal” tattoos. We contend that the back and leg “medicinal” tattoos correspond directly to sites of chronic right knee and right ankle pain, and left thoracolumbar pain. They also correspond to lower lumbar and sciatic referred radicular pain which may have a contributory cause related to the presence of a transitional lumbar 5 vertebra. Using recent published data (Keller et al. in Nature Commun 3:698, 2012. doi: 10.1038/ncomms1701 ) of the genome structure of the Iceman, we suggest some potential causes of the osteoarthritis or inflammatory joint injury may relate to presence of coronary heart disease (CHD) and Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) infection. We speculate on possible medical applications of natural products for self-medication. CONCLUSIONS: These observations highlight several diagnostic features of musculoskeletal conditions in the Iceman with the possibility that tattoos may have been used for diagnosis or location of his painful states. The origins of his musculoskeletal conditions are unclear but there are indications that Lyme disease and CHD may have been factors. The associations or use of natural products may give insights into their applications at the time of the life of the Iceman.

Concepts: Rheumatoid arthritis, Lyme disease, Pain, Arthritis, Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia, Ötzi the Iceman, Bolzano


The famous Iceman ‘Ötzi’ (South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, Bolzano, Italy), a Neolithic human ice mummy, offers a unique opportunity to study evolutionary aspects of oral disease. The aim of this study was to assess, for the very first time, his oral cavity, which surprisingly had never been examined systematically. Based on several computed tomography (CT) scans from 1991 onwards and on macroscopic investigation, only a few findings, such as a central maxillary diastema, heavy abrasions, and missing wisdom teeth, were known. We re-evaluated the latest CT scans from 2005 and found various oral pathologies. In line with the increase of tooth decay in the Neolithic - because of diet change in this historic transition phase - several carious lesions were found, one of which penetrated into the dental pulp. In accordance with the Iceman’s troubled life, as several injuries on his body and his violent death attest, mechanical trauma of one of his upper front teeth is evident. Finally, the poor periodontal condition of the Iceman’s dentition (e.g. loss of alveolar bone), indicative of periodontitis, was assessed. These oral pathological findings in the Iceman’s dentition provide a unique glimpse into the evolutionary history of oral conditions.

Concepts: Tomographic reconstruction, Teeth, Dental caries, Dentin, Ötzi the Iceman, Bolzano, South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, Province of Bolzano-Bozen


Purpose Soft tissues make a skeleton into a mummy and they allow for a diagnosis beyond osteology. Following the approach of structured reporting in clinical radiology, a recently developed checklist was used to evaluate the soft tissue preservation status of the Tyrolean Iceman using computed tomography (CT). The purpose of this study was to apply the “Checklist and Scoring System for the Assessment of Soft Tissue Preservation in CT Examinations of Human Mummies” to the Tyrolean Iceman, and to compare the Iceman’s soft tissue preservation score to the scores calculated for other mummies. Materials and Methods A whole-body (CT) (SOMATOM Definition Flash, Siemens, Forchheim, Germany) consisting of five scans, performed in January 2013 in the Department of Radiodiagnostics, Central Hospital, Bolzano, was used (slice thickness 0.6 mm; kilovolt ranging from 80 to 140). For standardized evaluation the “CT Checklist and Scoring System for the Assessment of Soft Tissue Preservation in Human Mummies” was used. Results All checkpoints under category “A. Soft Tissues of Head and Musculoskeletal System” and more than half in category “B. Organs and Organ Systems” were observed. The scoring system accounted for a total score of 153 (out of 200). The comparison of the scores between the Iceman and three mummy collections from Vilnius, Lithuania, and Palermo, Sicily, as well as one Egyptian mummy resulted in overall higher soft tissue preservation scores for the Iceman. Conclusion Application of the checklist allowed for standardized assessment and documentation of the Iceman’s soft tissue preservation status. The scoring system allowed for a quantitative comparison between the Iceman and other mummies. The Iceman showed remarkable soft tissue preservation. Key Points  · The approach of structured reporting can be transferred to paleoradiology.. · The checklist allowed for standardized soft tissue assessment and documentation.. · The scoring system facilitated a quantitative comparison among mummies.. · Based on CT, the Tyrolean Iceman demonstrated remarkable soft tissue preservation.. Citation Format · Panzer S, Pernter P, Piombino-Mascali D et al. Checklist and Scoring System for the Assessment of Soft Tissue Preservation in CT Examinations of Human Mummies: Application to the Tyrolean Iceman. Fortschr Röntgenstr 2017; DOI: 10.1055/s-0043-116668.

Concepts: Soft tissue sarcoma, Tissues, Scores, Soft tissue, Soft tissue disorder, Mummy, Ötzi the Iceman, Mummies


Mummification leads to alteration of soft-tissue morphology. No research has focused specifically on differences in soft-tissue shrinkage depending on mummification type. This study evaluated whether soft-tissue alteration is dependent on type of mummification. A total of 17 human mummies have been investigated by computed tomography (CT). Samples included artificially embalmed ancient Egyptian mummies, naturally mummified South American corpses, ice mummies (including the Iceman, South Tyrol Museum of Archeology, Bolzano, Italy, ca. 3,300 BC), bog bodies and a desiccated mummy of possibly Asian provenance. The acquired data were compared to four contemporary bodies. The extent of soft-tissue shrinkage was evaluated using CT data. Shrinkage was defined as soft-tissue relative to area of bone (in number of voxels). Measurements were taken at 13 anatomically defined locations. Ice mummies show the highest degree of preservation. This finding is most likely explained due to frozen water within tissues. All other types of mummies show significantly (at P < 0.05) smaller relative area of preserved soft-tissue. Variation between different anatomical structures (e.g., upper lip vs. mid-femur) is significant, unlike variation within one compartment (e.g., proximal vs. distal humerus). Mummification type strongly affects the degree of soft-tissue alteration, surprisingly mostly independent of overall historical age. These results highlight the unique morphological impact of taphonomy on soft-tissue preservation and are of particular interest in tissue research as well as in forensics. Anat Rec, 298:1162-1174, 2015. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: Anatomy, Ancient Egypt, Embalming, Mummy, Ötzi the Iceman, Bolzano, Bog body, South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology


The purpose of this study was to develop a checklist for standardized assessment of soft tissue preservation in human mummies based on whole-body computed tomography examinations, and to add a scoring system to facilitate quantitative comparison of mummies. Computed tomography examinations of 23 mummies from the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, Sicily (17 adults, 6 children; 17 anthropogenically and 6 naturally mummified) and 7 mummies from the crypt of the Dominican Church of the Holy Spirit of Vilnius, Lithuania (5 adults, 2 children; all naturally mummified) were used to develop the checklist following previously published guidelines. The scoring system was developed by assigning equal scores for checkpoints with equivalent quality. The checklist was evaluated by intra- and inter-observer reliability. The finalized checklist was applied to compare the groups of anthropogenically and naturally mummified bodies. The finalized checklist contains 97 checkpoints and was divided into two main categories, “A. Soft Tissues of Head and Musculoskeletal System” and “B. Organs and Organ Systems”, each including various subcategories. The complete checklist had an intra-observer reliability of 98% and an inter-observer reliability of 93%. Statistical comparison revealed significantly higher values in anthropogenically compared to naturally mummified bodies for the total score and for three subcategories. In conclusion, the developed checklist allows for a standardized assessment and documentation of soft tissue preservation in whole-body computed tomography examinations of human mummies. The scoring system facilitates a quantitative comparison of the soft tissue preservation status between single mummies or mummy collections.

Concepts: Tissues, Psychometrics, Soft tissue, Embalming, Mummy, Holy Spirit, Ötzi the Iceman, Mummies


An improved understanding of glycosylation will provide new insights into many biological processes. In the analysis of oligosaccharides from biological samples, a strict regime is typically followed to ensure sample integrity. However, the fate of glycans that have been exposed to environmental conditions over millennia has not yet been investigated. This is also true for understanding the evolution of the glycosylation machinery in humans as well as in any other biological systems. In this study, we examined the glycosylation of tissue samples derived from four mummies which have been naturally preserved: - the 5,300 year old “Iceman called Oetzi”, found in the Tyrolean Alps; the 2,400 year old “Scythian warrior” and “Scythian Princess”, found in the Altai Mountains; and a 4 year old apartment mummy, found in Vienna/Austria. The number of N-glycans that were identified varied both with the age and the preservation status of the mummies. More glycan structures were discovered in the contemporary sample, as expected, however it is significant that glycan still exists in the ancient tissue samples. This discovery clearly shows that glycans persist for thousands of years, and these samples provide a vital insight into ancient glycosylation, offering us a window into the distant past.

Concepts: DNA, Carbohydrate chemistry, Ancient Egypt, Glycomics, Mummy, Ötzi the Iceman, Mummies, Curse