Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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31-Oct-2003

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The man behind the mummy



Scientists have nearly pinned down the origin and life-long travel patterns of Iceman, the famous frozen mummy from the Alps.
[Copyright: Photo Archives South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology www.iceman.it]

Full size image available here

At the end of every "Scooby Doo" cartoon, we get details about the person pretending to be the mummy - or the sea monster or whatever other scary monster is featured that day. Without a costume hood to pull off, a new study describes how scientists found answers to questions about the life of the man behind Iceman, the famous Stone-Age mummy.

Hikers found the forty-something man who is also called Ötzi, when the European glacier that preserved him in cold storage for approximately 5200 years began to melt around him in 1991.

Iceman's body, clothing and equipment for hunting and gathering provide a glimpse into daily life during a specific piece of the Stone Age in Europe.

Scientific research not connected to this new study in Science suggests that the Iceman died from an arrow wound in his back at around the age of forty. He appears to have been fighting with several other people just before he died.

In their Science paper, Wolfgang Müller from the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia and his colleagues from the United States, Switzerland and Australia ask tough-to-answer questions like "Where was Iceman born?" and "Where did he live?"



Scientists have nearly pinned down the origin and life-long travel patterns of Iceman, the famous frozen mummy from the Alps.
[Copyright: Photo Archives South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology www.iceman.it]

Full size image available here

How do you figure out the travel and shelter history for a man that lived more that 5000 years ago?

The researchers analyzed the bones, teeth and intestine contents from Iceman and compared levels of certain elements and minerals to levels found in the natural environment.

Imagine that you are fifty years old and that you moved to new place with a different geological history and water source every ten years. By looking at the "biominerals" from food and water that your body saves in your teeth and bones, scientists could find clues about the specific environments you lived in during the different stages of your life. The researchers applied this technique in the Alps of central Europe to try to understand the "where" and "when" details of Iceman's life.

The authors say that Iceman was born in one of a few valleys near the border of Italy and Austria and that he lived much of his adult life south of the glacier that held him. This discovery suggests that people lived in the Alpine valleys of central Europe all-year-round as the Stone Age drew to a close. These findings appear in the 31 October, 2003 issue of the journal Science published by AAAS, the non-profit science society.

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Science is published by AAAS, the science society.