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Iceman may have living Alpine relatives

A reconstruction of Ötzi the Iceman.

A reconstruction of Ötzi the Iceman.

South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/A. Ochsenreire

Ötzi the Iceman, the 5,300-year-old mummified body discovered in 1991 in the Austrian Alps, may have numerous distant relatives living in the region today.

The discovery was made following the genetic analysis of DNA samples taken from Ötzi and 3,713 male blood donors in Tyrol,  Austria, where Ötzi was found.

Forensic scientists at Innsbruck Medical University found that 19 as yet unidentified blood donors share with the Iceman a rare mutation of the male Y chromosome, which tends to be passed intact through hundreds of generations. Descendants of Ötzi, whose genome was published in February, may also live in South Tyrol in Italy and in the Engadine region in Switzerland, the scientists suspect. Their findings hint at a common ancestor who may have settled in the Alps during the late Stone Age, about 10,000 years ago.

Analysis of DNA taken from the iceman’s bone cells had previously revealed that Ötzi had brown eyes and type O blood. Moreover, he seems to have been intolerant to lactose and possibly had Lyme disease.

But scientists had so far assumed that his closest present-day male relatives may live on the Mediterranean islands of Sardinia and Corsica, where the Y chromosome mutation he possesses are most commonly found.

The findings by the Innsbruck Medical University are part of the TirolStudie, a study into the historic and genetic origin of the Tyrolean population (resulting publications are listed here).

The Neolithic Iceman, complete with clothes and possessions, is exhibited at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano.

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