February 3, 2006

Alpine Ice Man May Have Been Childless Outcast

By Sophie Hardach

MILAN -- A Stone Age man found frozen in the Alps some 5,300 years after he was murdered under mysterious circumstances may have been a childless social outcast, a new study showed.

Italian anthropologist Franco Rollo studied fragments of the DNA belonging to Oetzi, as the mummy has come to be known, and found two typical mutations common among men with reduced sperm mobility, the museum that stores the "iceman" said.

A high percentage of men with such a condition are sterile.

"Insofar as the 'iceman' was found to possess both mutations, the possibility that he was unable to father offspring cannot be eliminated," the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in the Alpine town of Bolzano said in a statement.

"This not improbable hypothesis raises new questions concerning his social rank within his society," it added, arguing that the new evidence supported a theory that viewed the man as a social outcast.

Hikers discovered Oetzi in the mountains between Italy and Austria in 1991.

In 2001, scientists found an arrowhead in the iceman's shoulder blade, and tests revealed blood from four different people on his clothes and a cut in his hand, possibly from a fight.

Medicine in the man's pockets and sophisticated weapons seemed to indicate that he was a shaman or a chieftain, and one theory says Oetzi was the victim of a power struggle in his own tribe. A rival theory proposes the opposite -- that he was a reject.

Rollo, a researcher at the University of Camerino in Italy, was also able to assign the mummy's DNA to one of the basic groups of human DNA historically occurring in Europe.

His basic DNA resembles that of the Ladines, an ethnic group still living in the region today, and that of residents of the Oetztal valley where he was found, the museum said.

Rollo's latest research findings will be published in February's edition of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.