Exploring the Enigma of History’s Most Examined Corpse


The world’s most extensively researched corpse is likely Tzi the Iceman, whose frozen bones were discovered in a ravine high in the Tyrolean Alps by hikers in 1991.

The intrigue surrounding his brutal demise, identity, and how he got up on a mountain pass has spread well beyond the world of archaeology. His mummy is kept in a special cold cell in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy, where hundreds of people view it each year.

A recent analysis of the ancient DNA taken from Tzi’s pelvis reveals that he may still be hiding some information. The 5,300-year-old mummy was discovered to have a black complexion, dark eyes, and was probably bald after having his genetic composition examined. 

This contrasts with the reconstruction of Tzi, which shows a guy with a light complexion, a full head of hair, and a beard.

According to Albert Zink, director of the Institute for Mummy Studies at Bolzano-based Eurac Research, “it was previously thought that his skin had darkened during the mummification process.”

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Shades of the Past

It seems that the dark skin color of the mummy is quite close to the Iceman’s skin color during (his) lifetime,” said Zink, a co-author of the study that was published on Wednesday in the academic journal Cell Genomics.

It’s not that unexpected that Tzi had a dark complexion, Zink wrote in an email, pointing out that many ancient Europeans probably had darker skin than many modern Europeans do now.

Early European farmers were still relatively dark-skinned, but as their food and climate changed, they gradually became lighter in color. Compared to hunter-gatherers, farmers eat significantly less vitamin D in their diet, he said.

According to our research of the iceman’s stomach, which revealed the presence of ibex and deer meat, it appears that he was still consuming a sizable amount of meat.

The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, where Johannes Krause, a co-author of Zink’s study, directs the division of archaeogenetics, said the results revealed that the Iceman in real life resembled the mummies far more.

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Source: CNN

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