Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Ö-Ö-Ötzi Goodbye

At the weekend Radio 4 Extra Radiolab dealt with Ötzi.

In September 1991 a corpse was unearthed (unsnowed, perhaps?) near the border between Austria and Italy. The nearness to  the border wasn't a matter of great import at first: it was just a question of whose authorities would handle the red tape – checking missing persons lists, informing relatives...

There were some living relatives as it happens:
Living links to the Iceman have now been revealed by a new DNA study. Gene researchers looking at unusual markers on the Iceman's male sex chromosome report that they have uncovered at least 19 genetic relatives of Ötzi in Austria's Tyrol region.

The match was made from samples of 3,700 anonymous blood donors in a study led by Walther Parson at Innsbruck Medical University. Sharing a rare mutation known as G-L91, "the Iceman and those 19 share a common ancestor, who may have lived 10,000 to 12,000 years ago," Parson said. 
When it was found that the corpse was a mummy of a man who lived and breathed (and suffered and feared and bled) 5,300 years ago the nearness to the border took on a heightened importance. The fact that the mummy is now in a custom-built museum in Bolzano indicates that the Italian claims won (by a few metres).
The mummy, as shown in Wikipedia.
(See note)
Ötzi ...also called the Iceman, the Similaun Man (ItalianMummia del Similaun), the Man from Hauslabjoch, the Tyrolean Iceman, and the Hauslabjoch mummy, is the well-preserved natural mummy of a man who lived between 3400 and 3100 BCE*.The mummy was found ...on the border between Austria and Italy. He is Europe's oldest known natural human mummy, and has offered an unprecedented view of Chalcolithic (Copper Age) Europeans. His body and belongings are displayed in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in BolzanoSouth Tyrol, Italy.
*HD note: The numbers differ between reports ("...may have lived 10,000 to 12,000 years ago" versus "lived between 3400 and 3100 BCE") because  Ötzi's remains have been the object of nearly 30 years of speculation and study during which there has been much speculation punctuated by actual finds.  
Note on the image: the Radiolab programme says his right arm is raised, suggesting that the jpeg is displayed back-to-front. 
Ötzi was in his mid-forties at the time of his death – making him relatively old, for his day (long before the founding of the NHS, or indeed  the founding of the Roman Empire, or the building of the pyramids). He had had what some would call a good innings, although that "good" is questionable given the signs of wear and tear:
The 40-something's list of complaints include worn joints, hardened arteries, gallstones, and a nasty growth on his little toe (perhaps caused by frostbite).  
Furthermore, the Iceman's gut contained the eggs of parasitic worms, he likely had Lyme disease, and he had alarming levels of arsenic in his system (probably due to working with metal ores and copper extraction). Ötzi was also in need of a dentist—an in-depth dental examination found evidence of advanced gum disease and tooth decay... 
Despite all this, and a fresh arrow wound to his shoulder, it was a sudden blow to the head that proved fatal to Ötzi. 

But it was the contents of  Ötzi's gut that are of particular interest; and findings based on his gut contents are relatively recent as at first his stomach seemed to be missing; but they were found in 2010. And the intestinal tract is 'like a map and  a diary' – to quote one expert interviewed for the programme. The contents of his innards show that he was high in the mountains drinking water containing fir pollen, then down in the valley drinking water containing traces of hornbeam pollen, and then back up drinking water containing traces of fir pollen.

And before his final killing (brought down by the arrow and then dispatched with blows of a rock to the  head) he had cooked and eaten a feast  – 1½ pounds of cooked goat meat (a heavy meal by any standards, and so heavy that it  made flight impossible). Which one of the presenters said, showed that 'he felt safe enough' to build a fire, cook his meal and eat it.

In my view there's another explanation. Maybe, foreshadowing Marcus Aurelius, and even the Stoics who inspired Marcus by several thousand years, he had accepted his fate:
Soon you'll be ashes or bones. A mere name at most—and even that is just a sound, an echo. The things we want in life are empty, stale, trivial. 

He  was tired of running. Let his pursuers see the smoke of the fire. He was bleeding and tired. His village in the valley had been overrun (and maybe his family had  been killed or worse), and there was nothing he could do about it. But he was going out with a full stomach: Never weather-beaten sail more willing bent to shore.

In Passing

I ordered these the other day:
When I searched for them I used the search string pink tepe.  But I held the e key down for a millisecond too long, and got this helpful alternative:

Be careful what you wish for, especially when AI's involved. (And I bet Ötzi's  teepee wasn't pink.)

But I must be getting on (which I am of course, but you know what I mean: both getting on and getting on).


Update 2019. – Added PS.

My note on the mixed reports was correct in general but unnecessary in this case, as the speaker was referring to a shared ancestor  " who may have lived 10,000 to 12,000 years ago" which of course isn't incompatible with the "5,300" claim; silly mistake, reminiscent of the Darwinian  "descended from apes" mistake.

No comments:

Post a Comment