Living Relatives of Ötzi the Iceman Mummy Found in Austria

By Breanna Draxler | October 16, 2013 11:52 am
Here the Iceman sits in the laboratory cell of the South Tyrolean Archaeology Museum

Here the Iceman sits in the laboratory cell of the South Tyrolean Archaeology Museum
Image credit: Samadelli Marco/EURAC

Although Ötzi the Iceman has been dead for 5,300 years, his legacy is still kickin’ in newly-found living relatives.

Researchers discovered the family members by performing DNA tests on blood donated by 3,700 people in western Austria, not far from the Alps where Ötzi was found melting out of a glacier in 1991. The results showed 19 of those donors shared a unique genetic mutation with the mummified ice man.

“These men and the Iceman had the same ancestors,” said forensic scientist Walther Parson in his announcement to the Austrian Press Agency.

Chromosomal Clues

Dr. Eduard Egarter-Vigl (left) and Dr. Albert Zink (right) during the Iceman sampling in November 2010.

Researchers take a sample from Iceman’s hip to begin the sequencing process. Image credit: Samadelli Marco/EURAC

Ötzi’s genome was sequenced in its entirety last year using a sample of hip bone. Scientists had used these initial findings to study how he was related to regional ethnic groups, but this time they were interested in narrowing it down by investigating how many individual people sprang from Ötzi’s line.

Since his maternal line is thought to be extinct, researchers looked at DNA from the mummy’s Y chromosome instead—genetic material passed down from father to child. This heritable, unchanging DNA was still found lurking in the genomes of Austrians alive today. Ötzi and his long-lost relatives fall into a rare European haplogroup and sub category (known as G-L91).

Each haplogroup represents an isolated population of ancient people whose unique genetic mutations can tie them to a particular geographical location—the Öztal Alps in this case—and early migratory routes.

Unwanted Inheritance

 The new reconstruction of the Iceman as presented in the South Tyrolean Archaeology Museum showing the Iceman with brown eyes based on the genetic analysis.

This reconstruction of the Iceman shows his brown eyes, among other characteristics, as determined through genetic analysis.
Image credit: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/EURAC/Marco Samadelli-Gregor Staschitz

The scientists have not yet informed the mummy’s relatives of their ancestral connection. But perhaps that’s for the better.

For starters, it could be tough to shoulder the fame of being related to such a renowned mummy. Plus, many of the Neolithic farmer’s traits are less than desirable: he had a genetic predisposition to heart disease, and suffered tooth decay, joint pain and lactose intolerance.

And although it can’t be passed on, there’s a good chance he was suffering from Lyme disease, too. (We won’t even get into inheritance of his striking Neolithic appearance…)

It’s unlikely that these 19 individuals are the only descendants of the Ötzi family. Researchers say they’re now expanding their search for this rare genetic mutation to nearby regions of Italy and Switzerland. One more reason to donate blood, then: do it for the Iceman.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
  • http://atlantarofters.blogspot.com The Sanity Inspector

    I’m married to someone with roots in another continent. I wonder if there is a genetic test we could both take, that would tell us how many generations back we shared a common ancestor.

    • Emkay

      no test needed, it was Lucy, 4 feet tall, in central Africa about 55,000 years ago……

      • Sam Harris

        Wrong time genius Lucy lived over a million years ago.

        • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Michael Keener

          Oops, you’re wrong too Dumbazz, it was 3-4 million years ago:
          Answered Most Recently Aquadoc;
          Lucy, the type specimen of Australopithecus afarensis, an early ape-like ancestor of modern humans, lived around 3.2 million years ago, but the evidence in the fossil record indicates the species lived from 3-4 million years ago.

          Ain’t Google great!!

          • Sam Harris

            No I wasn’t I gave an estimate and I was a lot closer than you were, moron!

  • robynozz

    They should tell the relatives. People are interested in their lineage.

    • Heimdall222

      Yeah, but what if their lineage includes a serial pedophilic rapist.

      Is that something “people are interested in”?

      Are you?

      • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Dave Parta

        YES!!!

        • Heimdall222

          So you’re interested in serial pedophilic rapists who were burned alive when caught.

          Whoa!

          No ‘counting for some peoples’ tastes, I guess.

          But at least now we know what you do with your spare time…!

  • Matt Kovach

    They should tell the relatives.

    • Heimdall222

      Why do you say that?

  • froggyfrog

    Um, by inheritance of striking neolithic appearance do you mean harriness? There’s nothing wrong or neolithic about hair. Hair is sexy (on men and women)! Also if you really want to find out about your haplogroups you can do that using 23 and Me. It’s pretty cool.

    • Heimdall222

      Are you having difficulties being, ummm… green…?

      • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Michael Keener

        hirsute..

    • Emkay

      its hairiness….

      • cletus

        It’s it’s

        • Emkay

          it’s is possessive, DUMBASS! its is not….

  • e2carden

    I’m a confirmed L91. I would love to participate in further testing, my lineage is rather unique.

    • Heimdall222

      How did you determine that you are are a G-L91?

  • Pat Bradshaw

    II would think relatives of Otzy would be interested in their ancestor. How their appearance has changed over 5,300 years, know that their ancestor was from the same area they still live. I know I would love to have the chance of knowing an ancestor from 5,300 years ago.

  • Salihu

    When is this DNA thing coming to Africa? Some of us need to trace our roots and find our lost relations.

    • Heimdall222

      That sounds good, of course.

      But why do you believe that your lost relations want to find…you?

      • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Esther Medina

        Troll much?

      • Salihu

        In Africa family ties are very strong. I think if they ever exist, they would be as anxious as I am. Nevertheless, I want to see and know them irrespective of whatever their mindset is about me and my siblings.

        • Emkay

          you said “I think if they ever exist, they would be as anxious as I am”. ??
          they?? who is ‘they??

          • Salihu

            My lost relative, of course. My paternal grand father left home and died while my father was a kid. Dad couldn’t trace home and so all of us, his children. Even though all this may have happened within the same country, this is Africa, where records are badly kept. Is there any relative of my grand dad alive out there or are they all dead?

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Michael Keener

      just look up in the trees…

  • Emkay

    yet another example of people who need to find ‘real jobs that produce something of value…..

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