New research seems to support the theory that Ötzi the Iceman was attacked
and suffered some form of brain damage in the final moments of his life.
A team from the European Academy of Bolzano/Bozen (EURAC) extracted and
analysed tiny samples of brain tissue taken from Ötzi. He died more than 5 000
years ago, and his frozen, mummified body was discovered in the Italian Alps in
Ötzi had an arrow wound in his back and previous examination revealed two
bruising-related dark spots at the back of his brain. This suggested that Ötzi
had received a blow to the forehead, which caused his brain to knock against the
back of his skull.
In this new study, researchers found that the brain tissue samples contained
clotted blood cells. Although this supports the theory that Ötzi's brain
possibly suffered bruising before his death, it remains unclear whether this was
due to a blow to the forehead or from falling after being injured by an
The scientists also identified numerous brain proteins, blood cell proteins
and well-preserved brain cell structures in the brain tissue samples, according
to the study, which was published in the journal Cellular and Molecular Life
For their study, the team used new methods of protein analysis that open up
new possibilities for learning more about mummified bodies.
"Investigating mummified tissue can be very frustrating," study author Frank
Maixner said in a EURAC news release. "The samples are often damaged or
contaminated and do not necessarily yield results, even after several attempts
and using a variety of investigative methods."
"When you think that we have succeeded in identifying actual tissue changes
in a human who lived over 5 000 years ago, you can begin to understand how
pleased we are as scientists that we persisted with our research after many
unsuccessful attempts," said Maixner, a microbiologist. "It has definitely
proved worthwhile."Illustration of Ötzi the Iceman from the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology. Visit their website to learn more about Ötzi.