New Image of Ötzi, the Famous Iceman Who Died 5,300 Years Ago


The mummy of Ötzi, unearthed in the Alps in 1991, has recently undergone a fresh genetic analysis, unveiling a revised depiction of the man who perished 5,300 years ago. Contrary to earlier assumptions, this analysis suggests that he possessed dark skin and was likely bald, shedding new light on his ancient appearance.

On September 19, 1991, a group of hikers made a remarkable find on the Hauslabjoch glacier in the Austrian Alps. This discovery has since provided valuable insights into the lives of our ancestors during the final stages of the Neolithic period.

Partially embedded in the ice were the remains of an individual who had passed away over 5,000 years ago. The remarkably well-preserved body, a result of natural mummification, would go on to unveil a plethora of information, contributing to the initial reconstruction of the man’s likeness and generating theories about the circumstances surrounding his demise.

Attacked Violently From Behind

Ötzi's mummified body is perhaps the world's most closely studied archaeological find.
Ötzi’s mummified body is perhaps the world’s most closely studied archaeological find. Image: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/Eurac/Marco Samadelli-Gregor Staschitz.

Subsequent analyses following this discovery unveiled intriguing details about the Ötzi. He was identified as a 45-year-old man, standing at a height of 1.60 meters (5 feet 3 inches) and weighing approximately 50 kilograms (110 pounds). Despite his compromised health condition, marked by ailments like arthritis, gallstones, cavities, lung congestion, parasitic infection, and Lyme disease, these health issues did not directly lead to his demise.

Ötzi's body bears more than 60 tattoos, including this cross-shaped tattoo near his knee.
Ötzi’s body bears more than 60 tattoos, including this cross-shaped tattoo near his knee. Image: Robert Clark, Nat Geo Image Collection.

Further investigation revealed that Ötzi’s fate was met with violence. Although his clothing and belongings hinted at a lengthy journey through the Alps (the purpose of which remains a mystery), it became evident that Ötzi had encountered a brutal encounter. His right hand displayed signs of a recent cut; an arrowhead was lodged in his left shoulder blade; his skull exhibited a fracture at the back; and his lip bore a cut. Additionally, multiple ribs were fractured, leaving uncertainty about whether these injuries were sustained before, during, or after his death. Ötzi’s demise was likely a result of either fatal bleeding or severe head trauma. Examination of the preserved contents in his stomach provided insights into his last meal, shedding light on the dietary habits of this individual from the Copper Age and offering a glimpse into his lifestyle.

New DNA Analyses Reveal His Origin

Reconstruction of the Iceman by Alfons & Adrie Kennis.
Reconstruction of the Iceman by Alfons & Adrie Kennis. Image: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/Ochsenreiter.

The preservation of Ötzi’s remains allowed for genome sequencing in 2012, unveiling his genetic makeup and offering insights into his appearance and origin. Initially, he was depicted as a brown-haired man with fair skin, light-colored eyes, and a full head of hair. His genetic signature linked him to modern populations in northern Sardinia and southern Corsica, suggesting a connection to early Mediterranean farmers in Europe.

However, recent advancements in genetic sequencing have challenged these assumptions. A study published in Cell Genomics presents a revised portrait of Ötzi: he likely had dark skin, dark eyes, and was bald. These findings align better with the mummy’s current appearance, characterized by high skin pigmentation and a lack of hair. Additionally, the study revealed that Ötzi had type 2 diabetes and a metabolic syndrome associated with obesity. His origin has also been reevaluated, placing him closer to the early farmers of Anatolia, sharing 92% genetic similarity with them. He likely belonged to an isolated population in the Alps, showing minimal genetic mixing with hunter-gatherer communities north of the mountain range due to geographical barriers.

However, the question of Ötzi’s representativeness for his era and region remains complex. To achieve a clearer understanding, further analyses involving a larger number of individuals are necessary.