Institute for Mummies and the Iceman

Bolzano, Italy

Institute for Mummies and the Iceman

Bolzano, Italy
Time filter
Source Type

News Article | August 21, 2016

It’s said that fashion is cyclical, and that the styles of past decades are inevitably revived for new generations. But for a truly original look, trendsters should dig deeper than the neon spandex tones of the 1980s or the flower child garb of the 1960s. Why not channel the tropes of an even simpler time, beyond the flapper-dressed Jazz Age and into the Copper Age, some 5,300 years ago? Introducing the newest oldest look in the book, pioneered by Ötzi, aka the Iceman, who rocked it right into his icy grave in the Ötztal Alps around 3,300 BCE. First discovered by mountaineers in 1991, Ötzi is Europe’s oldest known natural mummy, and one of the most exquisitely preserved human specimens preserved from the Copper Age. Now, his wardrobe has been reconstructed in unprecedented detail in the latest issue of Scientific Reports. The outfit: Sheepskin loincloth and goat-leather leggings, accessorized with a bear fur hat, a deerskin quiver, a grass-string backback, and some hay-stuffed shoes to round it out. Weaponry, tools, and extensive body tattoos are recommended for optimal veracity. The result: Iceman Chic, a look as timeless as Ötzi himself. Assorted accessories in Iceman’s wardrobe. Image: Institute for Mummies and the Iceman According to one of the new study’s co-authors, archeologist Ron Pinhasi of the University College, Dublin, comprehensive DNA analysis of the Iceman’s clothing reveals that he was “pretty picky” about his threads. “To me it seems pretty sophisticated in terms of the capacities to use so many different materials from different animals,” Pinhasi told the Guardian. Indeed, the new study unearthed new details about Ötzi’s fashion sense, including the first evidence that his quiver of arrows was hewn from the hides of roe deer. The mix of domestic and wild animal origins in his getup raises new questions about the creation and myriad functions of Copper Age clothing. “The Iceman’s garments and quiver are from an assemblage of at least five different species of animal,” the new study points out. “The coat alone was a combination of at least four hides and two species: goat and sheep. This result may indicate a haphazard stitching together of clothing based upon materials that were available to the Iceman, as ancient rudimentary leather is posited to rapidly deteriorate after manufacture.” “However, the leggings were composed of goat leather, which was also used in the manufacture of a 4,500-year-old leggings from Schnidejoch, Switzerland,” the authors continue. “This result lends support to the idea that Copper Age individuals in the Alpine region selected species for specific attributes when manufacturing clothing. This may also indicate a functional choice of material based on flexibility or insulating potential.” In other words, it’s unclear whether the Iceman was more of an improvisational fashionista who worked with whatever he could find, or if there was some grander significance behind his preference for blended materials—be it functional, aesthetic, or even religious. One thing’s for certain though: This was literally a killer look. After Ötzi’s frozen body was exhumed from its alpine grave, scientists found evidence that he had been shot deep with an arrow, wounded in recent hand-to-hand combat, and beaten over the head. It seems the Iceman met with a violent and mysterious end. But damn if he didn’t go out with style.

Lucker S.,University of Vienna | Wagner M.,University of Vienna | Maixner F.,University of Vienna | Maixner F.,Institute for Mummies and the Iceman | And 12 more authors.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America | Year: 2010

Nitrospira are barely studied and mostly uncultured nitrite-oxidizing bacteria, which are, according to molecular data, among the most diverse and widespread nitrifiers in natural ecosystems and biological wastewater treatment. Here, environmental genomics was used to reconstruct the complete genome of "Candidatus Nitrospira defluvii" from an activated sludge enrichment culture. On the basis of this first-deciphered Nitrospira genome and of experimental data, we show that Ca. N. defluvii differs dramatically from other known nitrite oxidizers in the key enzyme nitrite oxidoreductase (NXR), in the composition of the respiratory chain, and in the pathway used for autotrophic carbon fixation, suggesting multiple independent evolution of chemolithoautotrophic nitrite oxidation. Adaptations of Ca. N. defluvii to substrate-limited conditions include an unusual periplasmic NXR, which is constitutively expressed, and pathways for the transport, oxidation, and assimilation of simple organic compounds that allow a mixotrophic lifestyle. The reverse tricarboxylic acid cycle as the pathway for CO2 fixation and the lack of most classical defense mechanisms against oxidative stress suggest that Nitrospira evolved from microaerophilic or even anaerobic ancestors. Unexpectedly, comparative genomic analyses indicate functionally significant lateral gene-transfer events between the genus Nitrospira and anaerobic ammonium-oxidizing planctomycetes, which share highly similar forms of NXR and other proteins reflecting that two key processes of the nitrogen cycle are evolutionarily connected.

Maixner F.,Institute for Mummies and the Iceman | Thomma A.,University of Vienna | Cipollini G.,Institute for Mummies and the Iceman | Widder S.,University of Vienna | And 2 more authors.
PLoS ONE | Year: 2014

Ancient hominoid genome studies can be regarded by definition as metagenomic analyses since they represent a mixture of both hominoid and microbial sequences in an environment. Here, we report the molecular detection of the oral spirochete Treponema denticola in ancient human tissue biopsies of the Iceman, a 5,300-year-old Copper Age natural ice mummy. Initially, the metagenomic data of the Iceman's genomic survey was screened for bacterial ribosomal RNA (rRNA) specific reads. Through ranking the reads by abundance a relatively high number of rRNA reads most similar to T. denticola was detected. Mapping of the metagenome sequences against the T. denticola genome revealed additional reads most similar to this opportunistic pathogen. The DNA damage pattern of specifically mapped reads suggests an ancient origin of these sequences. The haematogenous spread of bacteria of the oral microbiome often reported in the recent literature could already explain the presence of metagenomic reads specific for T. denticola in the Iceman's bone biopsy. We extended, however, our survey to an Iceman gingival tissue sample and a mouth swab sample and could thereby detect T. denticola and Porphyrimonas gingivalis, another important member of the human commensal oral microflora. Taken together, this study clearly underlines the opportunity to detect disease-associated microorganisms when applying metagenomics- enabled approaches on datasets of ancient human remains. © 2014 Maixner et al.

Woide D.,Helmholtz Center Munich | Zink A.,Institute for Mummies and the Iceman | Thalhammer S.,Helmholtz Center Munich
American Journal of Physical Anthropology | Year: 2010

The study of ancient DNA plays an important role in archaeological and palaeontological research as well as in pathology and forensics. Here, we present a new tool for ancient DNA analysis, which overcomes contamination problems, DNA degradation, and the negative effects of PCR inhibitors while reducing the amount of starting target material in the picogram range. Ancient bone samples from four Egyptian mummies were examined by combining laser microdissection, conventional DNA extraction, and low-volume PCR. Initially, several bone particles (osteons) in the micrometer range were extracted by laser microdissection. Subsequently, ancient DNA amplification was performed to verify our extraction method. Amelogenin and β-actin gene specific fragments were amplified via low-volume PCR in a total reaction volume of 1 μl. Results of microdissected mummy DNA samples were compared to mummy DNA, which was extracted using a standard DNA extraction method based on pulverization of bone material. Our results highlight the combination of laser microdissection and low-volume PCR as a promising new technique in ancient DNA analysis. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Nicklisch N.,Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz | Maixner F.,Institute for Mummies and the Iceman | Ganslmeier R.,State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology | Friederich S.,State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology | And 4 more authors.
American Journal of Physical Anthropology | Year: 2012

As an infectious disease, tuberculosis (TB) is one of the major causes of death worldwide. Paleopathological and paleomicrobiological studies indicate a long standing association of the causative agent Mycobacterium tuberculosis and its human host. Since the occurrence and the epidemic spread of this pathogen seem to be closely linked to social and biological factors, it is of particular interest to understand better the role of TB during periods of social and nutritional change such as the Neolithic. In this study, 118 individuals from three sites in Saxony-Anhalt (Germany) dating to the Linear Pottery Culture (5400-4800 BC) were examined macroscopically to identify TB related bone lesions. In two individuals, Pott's disease was detected. In addition, periosteal reactions of varying degrees and frequency were observed mainly along the neck of the ribs in 6.5% (2/31) of subadults and 35.1% (20/57) of adults, with one site standing out markedly. Rib lesions, however, are not specific indicators of TB as they can also be caused by other diseases; so additional investigations were undertaken using histology and micro-CT scans to say more about the disease process. Supplementary molecular analyses indicate the presence of pathogens belonging to the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex in individuals of all sites. Furthermore, we discuss the occurrence and spread of TB during the Neolithic with regard to nutritional aspects and possible risks of infection. The data presented provide important insights into the health status of Early Neolithic populations in Central Germany. Copyright © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Hall E.K.,University of Vienna | Singer G.A.,University of Vienna | Polzl M.,University of Vienna | Hammerle I.,University of Vienna | And 5 more authors.
ISME Journal | Year: 2011

Stoichiometry of microbial biomass is a key determinant of nutrient recycling in a wide variety of ecosystems. However, little is known about the underlying causes of variance in microbial biomass stoichiometry. This is primarily because of technological constraints limiting the analysis of macromolecular composition to large quantities of microbial biomass. Here, we use Raman microspectroscopy (MS), to analyze the macromolecular composition of single cells of two species of bacteria grown on minimal media over a wide range of resource stoichiometry. We show that macromolecular composition, determined from a subset of identified peaks within the Raman spectra, was consistent with macromolecular composition determined using traditional analytical methods. In addition, macromolecular composition determined by Raman MS correlated with total biomass stoichiometry, indicating that analysis with Raman MS included a large proportion of a cell's total macromolecular composition. Growth phase (logarithmic or stationary), resource stoichiometry and species identity each influenced each organism's macromolecular composition and thus biomass stoichiometry. Interestingly, the least variable peaks in the Raman spectra were those responsible for differentiation between species, suggesting a phylogenetically specific cellular architecture. As Raman MS has been previously shown to be applicable to cells sampled directly from complex environments, our results suggest Raman MS is an extremely useful application for evaluating the biomass stoichiometry of environmental microorganisms. This includes the ability to partition microbial biomass into its constituent macromolecules and increase our understanding of how microorganisms in the environment respond to resource heterogeneity. © 2011 International Society for Microbial Ecology All rights reserved.

News Article | August 18, 2016

Since Otzi the Iceman was discovered on a glacier near the Italian-Austrian border in 1991, his mummified body has been a constant source of study, with researchers working laboriously to discover whatever they can about one of humanity's ancestors. Now, researchers have discovered yet another detail about the iceman: what he wore when he died. Researchers had a solid idea about many aspects of Otzi's life, such as how he died and what his diet consisted of prior to his end, but what he had on at the time continued to elude them. Otzi was found with various leather clothing when he was discovered all those years ago, but due to the limitations of DNA study at the time, they couldn't narrow what he wore down to the species level. Now, thanks to advancements made in that field, not only have researchers discovered what types of leather Otzi wore, but the discovery has revealed quite a bit about his lifestyle. The findings, published in Scientific Reports, revealed that Otzi's clothes were comprised of at least five five different animals when he met his end. – A coat of many fragments, incorporating both sheep and goat skin To reach this conclusion, researchers analyzed the leathers' mitochondrial DNA — the separate, smaller genome found in the tiny compartments that turn food into energy inside living cells. "We analyzed nine samples and for each one, we were able to reconstruct either a whole mitogenome or a partial mitogenome," said the paper's first author Niall O'Sullivan, a PhD student at University College Dublin based at the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy. "We were very happy with that." While being able to crack a 25-year-old puzzle was a momentous occasion in and of itself, the one of two implications that this discovery suggests is equally important. On one hand, the findings suggests that Copper Age people carefully chose between different wild and domesticated animals when looking for materials to make their clothes. For example, cow leather, which was found in Otzi's shoes, was the sturdiest material on his body, suggesting his boots were made for walking. Sheep leather, which made up parts of his striped coat, would have kept him warmer than other materials. On the other hand, the presence of multiple types of leather could also suggest that choosing articles of clothing was approached haphazardly, with icemen simply picking what they had readily available. Regardless of the outcome, however, it will only serve to clarify what researchers already knew. "It clarifies what we already knew — that the Iceman was an agropastoralist; that the majority [of] the food and resources that he used were of domestic origin." Of course, that "majority" component is important, as it's possible that Otzi got some of his leathers — or even finished pieces of clothing — by trading with people from other regions. Unfortunately, unless researchers happen to come across another similarly well-preserved specimen, they'll never know for sure. © 2016 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

News Article | August 24, 2016

Ancient clothing is rarely preserved, but two independent teams have discovered what early humans wore to cope with the cold European weather. Mark Collard at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada, and his colleagues compared the animals that modern indigenous groups used to make cold-weather clothing with the bone types found at early human and Neanderthal sites. Remains from animals with fur, such as foxes and rabbits, were more common at early-human sites, whereas bones from deer, bovids and several other animals were found at both types of site equally. This suggests that early humans used fur to sew specialized cold-weather apparel, but that Neanderthals relied on simpler animal-skin capes, the authors say. In a separate paper, Niall O'Sullivan at the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy, and his team sequenced mitochondrial DNA from garments worn by Ötzi, the 5,300-year-old ice mummy. His coat, leggings (pictured left) and loincloth were made from the skins of domestic cattle, sheep and goats, whereas his hat and quiver (pictured right) used brown-bear fur and roe-deer skin.

News Article | February 16, 2017

They have found the molecules in the well-known glacier mummy "Ötzi". A number of facts have been scientifically proven about the glacier mummy, known as "the Iceman" or "Ötzi," found in the Ötztal Alps (South Tyrol) in 1991. Through imaging techniques, we know about degeneration in his lumbar spine and a fatal arrow wound in his left shoulder. DNA analyses showed that Ötzi was lactose intolerant, and had brown eyes and blood type 0. Now a study of Ötzi's microRNAs has also been completed. MicroRNAs are very small pieces of ribonucleic acid (RNA) and play a central role in the regulation of genes. Although these molecules are very stable in tissues, prior to this study it was unclear whether they could still be found in human tissues after thousands of years. Therefore, Professors Andreas Keller and Eckart Meese of Saarland University, Stephanie Kreis of the University of Luxembourg, and Professor Albert Zink and Frank Maixner of Eurac Research in Bozen took on the challenge. They analyzed not only tissue samples from the Iceman, but also those from a mummy of a soldier fallen in World War I. "Our investigation provides evidence that we can analyze microRNA even after thousands of years," explains Andreas Keller, Professor of Clinical Bioinformatics at Saarland University, who coordinated the study. The scientists took samples from Ötzi's skin, stomach, and stomach contents. "It was a challenge to extract this genetic material in significant quantities and sufficient quality from the mummified tissue samples, and to measure and quantify it with the newest, very precise methods," reports Stephanie Kreis, who isolated the microRNAs at the University of Luxembourg. Some molecules were found that were present predominantly in the ancient tissues. Conversely, some of the biomarkers that are well-known today were not found in Ötzi. According to Professor Zink from Eurac Research, the microRNAs are the next important class of molecules from Ötzi to receive intensive examination. Professor Meese, head of the Institute of Human Genetics at Saarland University, claims that the stability of these biomarkers is also important for people today. "It is vital for clinical applications," explains Meese. "It's evident that the potential of microRNA is much greater than we previously thought. We still don't know enough about how these molecules influence specific genes, entire gene families, or biochemical reaction pathways. When we investigate this further, it's possible microRNAs will become new stars in therapy. Until then, however, there is a lot more work to do," concludes Professor Keller. Publication "miRNAs in ancient tissue specimens of the Tyrolean Iceman" https:/ Questions can be directed to: Professor Albert Zink Institute for Mummies and the Iceman Eurac Research Tel.: +39 0471 055561 E-mail:

News Article | January 7, 2016

The famous Ötzi, a man murdered about 5,300 years ago in the Italian Alps, had what's now considered the world's oldest known case of Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that can cause ulcers and gastric cancer, a new study finds. It's unclear whether the ancient iceman did, in fact, have ulcers or gastric cancer because his stomach tissue didn't survive. Today, about half of the world's human population has H. pylori in their gut, but only one in 10 people develop a condition from the bacteria, the researchers said. However, an analysis of tissues from Ötzi's gastrointestinal tract shows that his immune system had reacted to the potentially virulent strain, suggesting he might have felt ill from H. pylori symptoms on the day he died. [Mummy Melodrama: Top 9 Secrets About Otzi the Iceman] "We showed the presence of marker proteins which we see today in patients infected with Helicobacter," study lead author Frank Maixner, a microbiologist at the European Academy in Bozen/Bolzano in Italy, said in a statement. The researchers also analyzed the specific H. pylori strain that Ötzi carried. They found that, although it was unique, it was strikingly similar to a strain seen in ancient Asia but not to those in northern Africa as the researchers had suspected. Hikers discovered Ötzi's mummified body in a glacier in 1991, and his remains now reside at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy. Studies on the Copper Age man suggest that Ötzi likely lived with aches and pains — during his lifetime, he had bad teeth and knees; a genetic predisposition to heart disease; lactose intolerance; arthritis; a possible case of Lyme disease; and wounds indicating that he suffered from an arrow injury and a blow to the head before he died at somewhere between 40 and 50 years old. Despite these maladies, Ötzi probably would have lived for another 10 to 20 years if he hadn't been murdered, study co-author Albert Zink, the head of the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman at the European Academy, said during a news conference yesterday (Jan. 6). The researchers were curious about whether Ötzi carried the ancient form of H. pylori, which research suggests has existed in humans for at least 100,000 years. But the new study was no easy undertaking. The scientists defrosted the heavily tattooed mummy and used an incision made by an earlier inspection of Ötzi to take tissue samples. The team extracted 12 biopsy samples from the stomach and intestine, and analyzed the genetic material from each. "We had to separate the Helicobacter pylori sequences from the other genetic material," which included the DNA from the iceman himself, food he had eaten, soil bacteria that invaded the body, and other material, study co-senior author Thomas Rattei, the head of the Division of Computational Systems Biology at the University of Vienna in Austria, said at the news conference. "This was like searching [for] a needle in the haystack." But they did find it. Moreover, Ötzi's H. pylori strain was heavily fragmented because of degradation, providing more evidence that it wasn't the result of modern contamination but rather the actual ancient strain that had infected him during the Copper Age, Rattei said. [Album: A New Face for Ötzi the Iceman Mummy] After sequencing the ancient H. pylori strain, the researchers compared it to other known strains of the pathogen. Interestingly, scientists can use H. pylori as a tool to study human migration. The human genome typically mutates slowly over time, but H. pylori mutates quickly. It changes so fast, in fact, that it's usually unique to each geographic population. What's more, if one group of people encounters another — by migrating to a new area, for instance — their H. pylori strains can mix, leaving genetic clues about the mixed strain's background. Furthermore, these H. pylori strains infect only humans, so it can't be carried by other animals, the researchers said. "That is why we studied Helicobacter pylori and why it's so important for illustrating all of these wonderful prehistoric human migrations," said co-senior author Yoshan Moodley, a professor in the Department of Zoology at the University of Venda in South Africa.

Loading Institute for Mummies and the Iceman collaborators
Loading Institute for Mummies and the Iceman collaborators