Ötzi, the over 5,300-year-old Iceman, was possibly bald, with dark skin and dark eyes. A different image from the one he believed and that has drawn up a new genetic study.
Discovered in the Italian Alps in 1991 by some tourists, the Tyrolean Neolithic Iceman is the oldest known mummy preserved in ice and all kinds of analyzes have been done on it.
A team of Italian and German experts carried out a more complete and higher-quality genomic analysis than those achieved so far to better understand Ötzi's genetic history, which has revealed some surprises that Cell Genomics is publishing today.
The analysis revealed features such as "high skin pigmentation, dark eye color, and male-pattern baldness that are in stark contrast to previous reconstructions, which show a light-skinned, light-eyed, fairly hairy male," one noted. of the authors, Johannes Krause.
The findings suggest that, in life, the Iceman looked more like today's mummy, which "is dark and has no hair," added Krause, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Germany).
Although the first analysis of the genome determined that his skin tone was Mediterranean-European, "it is now known that it is the darkest that has been recorded in contemporary European individuals", according to the also author of the research Albert Zink, of the Research Institute Eurac (Italy).
"It was previously thought that the mummy's skin had darkened during storage in ice, but presumably what we see now is actually, to a large extent, the original color of Ötzi's skin," which is also important for its correct conservation.
The study also points out that the earlier image of Ötzi is incorrect in other ways. Being a mature man, it is most likely that he no longer had long thick hair, but at most a thin crown. In fact, his genes show a predisposition to baldness.
"It is remarkable how the reconstruction is biased by our own preconception of a Stone Age human from Europe," Krause added, quoted by the Max Planck Institute.
The mummy also had genes for increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, but these factors likely didn't come into play thanks to her healthy lifestyle.
The new genetic analysis also determines the origins of the Iceman, who had an unusually high ancestry of farmers from early Anatolia (the peninsula where present-day Turkey is located). Ötzi has more than 92% Anatolian ancestry from early farmers, a finding that recalls the extraordinary migration history of Europeans.
"The team was surprised to find no trace of Eastern European steppe herders in the most recent analysis of the iceman's genome. Genetically, his ancestors appear to have come directly from Anatolia without mixing with hunter-gatherer groups," explains Krause. .
The results also suggest that the Alps were a genetic barrier, so the Iceman population did not exchange many genes with people north and west of those mountains.
The first genetic study revealed genetic traces of steppe herders, however the new refined results no longer support this finding and the authors suggest the reason is that the original sample had been contaminated with modern DNA.
Other previous work also suggested a close genetic affinity with modern Sardinians, but the researchers now say they reached these conclusions before more human genomes were available.
Since that study, sequencing technologies have advanced enormously, and many more genomes of other prehistoric Europeans have been fully deciphered, often from bone finds. This has made it possible to compare Ötzi's genetic code with that of his contemporaries.
Krause noted that it is unclear whether or not Ötzi is representative of the people of his time and place. To answer that question, future studies would have to analyze more individuals from the same region and time.