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.”
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.