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Ancient Iceman murder victim was lactose-intolerant, sickly

5,000-year-old corpse shows Oetzi might have pegged soon anyway

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Scientists sequencing the genome of the 5,000-year-old "Iceman" corpse found 20 years ago in the Tyrolean Alps, have discovered that he had brown eyes, was lactose-intolerant, prone to heart disease and had Lyme disease. The boffins also found that he may be related to some modern-day Northern Mediterraneans.

The results of their tests are published in the journal Nature Communications and unveil some of the characteristics of the ancient mountain roamer, the world's oldest glacier mummy.

Oetzi, who died of a flint arrow to the left shoulder and a blow to the head, also suffered from the tick-borne nervous system disorder Lyme disease, the scientists discovered after they found traces of an infection by the bacteria. It is the oldest documented case of Lyme disease in the world.

Despite a diet that was likely to be low in pork scratchings, the Iceman was also predisposed to coronary heart disease, the scientists found – confirming earlier findings that his arteries were found to be calcified. It's a discovery that shows it's not just modern lifestyles that are giving people heart attacks:

“The evidence that such a genetic predisposition already existed in Ötzi’s lifetime is of huge interest to us. It indicates that cardiovascular disease is by no means an illness chiefly associated with modern lifestyles. We are now eager to use these data to help us explore further how these diseases developed,” says anthropologist Albert Zink of Bolzano’s EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman.

Oetzi may also have had trouble digesting milk products, as certain genes suggest he was lactose-intolerant – though that may have been the least of his troubles.

Oetzi's murder is described as the world's oldest murder case, and it's likely the Iceman was killed in a mountain-top skirmish between tribes as blood from other people was found on his clothes. He was found with a flint-bladed knife, a copper axe, and some berries and mushrooms (believed to be for medicinal use) on a string.

The gene-crunching also revealed some nuggets about Oetzi's ethnicity. One gene in particular suggested that Oetzi's ancestors migrated from the Middle East. The gene is uncommon in Europe but found in some modern day inhabitants of the Northern Mediterranean, including Italians but particularly the geographically isolated populations of Sardinia and Corsica. ®

New insights into the Tyrolean Iceman's origin and phenotype as inferred by whole-genome sequencing is published in Nature Communications.

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