Ötzi the Iceman was dark-skinned an
d bald, according to new research.
Initial artist’s impression of the early human showed him with light skin and long hair.
But fresh analysis of the remains of the man dubbed Ötzi, who lived around 5,300 years ago, reveals he actually had dark skin and male pattern baldness.
The mummified body was found by German tourist Helmut Simon on a glacier in the Tirolean Ötztal Alps, on the Italian-Austrian border, on Sept. 19, 1991.
Radiocarbon-dated to 3300 BC, the body is that of a man aged 25 to 35 who was about 5 feet (1.52 m) 2 inches (1.6 meters) tall and had weighed around 110 pounds (50 kilos).
It was originally believed he had fallen victim to exposure or exhaustion while crossing the Alps and froze to death.
But x-ray examination in 2001 showed that an arrowhead was lodged in his left shoulder, suggesting that he had likely bled to death.
Now researchers have used state of the art technology to generate a much higher quality genome to learn more about his genetic history- and found some surprises.
The findings, published in the journal Cell Genomic, show Ötzi had dark skin, dark eyes, and a balding head.
Since the initial analysis, technology has made rapid advance and several more genomes of other prehistoric Europeans have been fully decoded.
The advances made it possible to compare Ötzi’s genetic code with his contemporaries.
The new findings show that among the hundreds of early European people who lived at the same time as Ötzi and whose genomes are now available, his has more ancestry in common with early Anatolian farmers than any of his European counterparts.
Study co-author Professor Johannes Krause said: “The genome analysis revealed phenotypic traits such as high skin pigmentation, dark eye color, and male pattern baldness that are in stark contrast to the previous reconstructions that show a light skinned, light eyed, and quite hairy male.
“The mummy itself, however, is dark and has no hair.”
He said the new findings suggest that the Iceman in life looked more like the mummy does today.
The more complete and higher-quality genome analysis also suggests that Ötzi belonged to an isolated Alpine population with limited gene flow from hunter-gatherer groups.
Researchers have previously conducted several studies to learn about who he was, including studies of the Iceman’s genomic and ancestral composition.
A 2012 study generated a lower-coverage genome that offered novel insights, despite considerable contamination from present-day human DNA.
The earlier work suggested close genetic affinity between Ötzi and present-day Sardinians.
But now researchers say those conclusions were reached before more human genomes had become available.
The new study involved sequencing Ötzi’s genome again using more recent sequencing technologies to produce a higher-quality genome.
What surprised researchers most was how the new data changes the picture of what Ötzi looked like.
Anthropologist Dr. Albert Zink, study co-author and head of the Eurac Research Institute for Mummy Studies in Italy, said: “The most surprising results were the presence of male-pattern-baldness-related alleles supporting the absence of hair observed on the actual mummy and the rather dark skin pigmentation that is also supported by the mummy.”
Prof. Krause, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, added: “It is remarkable how the reconstruction is biased by our own preconception of a Stone Age human from Europe.”
He said the large amount of Anatolian ancestry came as another surprise, with Ötzi carrying more than 92 percent Anatolian early farmer ancestry.
The research team believe the Iceman’s population didn’t exchange many genes with people north and west of the Alps.
Study co-author Prof Krause said: “We were very surprised to find no traces of Eastern European Steppe Herders in the most recent analysis of the Iceman genome; the proportion of hunter-gatherer genes in Ötzi’s genome is also very low.
“Genetically, his ancestors seem to have arrived directly from Anatolia without mixing with hunter gatherer groups.
His skin type, already determined in the first genome analysis to be Mediterranean-European, was even darker than previously thought.
Dr. Zink said: “It’s the darkest skin tone that has been recorded in contemporary European individuals:
“It was previously thought that the mummy’s skin had darkened during its preservation in the ice, but presumably what we see now is actually largely Ötzi’s original skin color.
“Knowing this, of course, is also important for the proper conservation of the mummy.”
Dr. Zink says the previous image of Ötzi is also incorrect regarding his hair.
He said as a mature man, Ötzi most likely no longer had long, thick hair on his head, but at most a sparse crown of hair.
Dr. Zink said Ötzi genes, in fact, show a predisposition to baldness.
He added: “This is a relatively clear result and could also explain why almost no hair was found on the mummy.”
Genes presenting an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes were also found in Ötzi’s genome, but the researchers said those factors probably did not come into play thanks to his healthy lifestyle.
Prof Krause says it’s not clear whether Ötzi is representative of people from his time and place.
He said future studies would need to analyze more individuals from the same region and time period to answer that question.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker