| 1 November 2003
Iceman's likely birthplace found
Scientists have pinpointed the likely birthplace of Oetzi the famous Iceman. The ancient hunter probably spent his childhood in what is now the Italian South Tyrol village of Feldthurns. Evidence suggests his lifelong travels were confined to a 60-km (37-mile) range south-east of where his body was found.
The 5,300-year-old frozen mummy emerged from a melting glacier along the mountainous border between Italy and Austria in 1991. Scientists have been carrying out detailed studies of how he lived and died ever since.
The latest research, published in the journal Science, looked at elements found in Oetzi's teeth, bones and intestines and compared them with the types found in water and soil in the region. Biominerals from the diet are deposited in the body at different times - in the teeth, for example, during childhood, and in the bones in adult life. This allowed researchers in Australia, the United States and Switzerland to deduce where Oetzi lived at various stages of his life.
Water in the area where Oetzi was found varies in oxygen isotope ratio because rainfall to the north comes from the cooler and more distant Atlantic Ocean, while that to the south comes from the warmer and closer Mediterranean. Analysis of Oetzi's tooth enamel indicates that between the ages of 3 and 5 he was drinking water with isotope ratios found only to the south of where he was found frozen. However, bone analysis of the isotope level ingested as an adult shows a contribution from both northern and southern water sources, something the researchers said could indicate migration into one or more of several nearby valleys.
The scientists also analyzed the argon ratio of bits of mica found in the intestine, believed to have been ingested as a result of eating stone-ground grain. Using this data, the team was able to rule out the region south of Bolzano as home to Oetzi, saying instead that he more likely restricted his movements to a few valleys within 60 kilometres south east of where his body was discovered. He never moved north of this point and probably grew up in the Eisack valley, in the southern Tyrol. "Our data indicate that the Iceman spent his entire life in the area south of the discovery site" near the border between Italy and Austria, the team concluded. Several ancient archaeological sites in and around this region have been identified. The scientists think Feldthurns is the Iceman's most likely childhood home: excavations have revealed a standing stone dating back to the Copper Age.
Later on in life, Oetzi moved further north to the mountains of lower Vinschgau, before travelling to the Otz valley where he met his death at the age of 46. Dr Alexander Halliday of the Department of Earth Sciences at RTH Zurich said: "It looks like he lived much of his life in a different valley from where he was born. The impression one gets is that the Alpine valleys in that particular area were fairly well-inhabited."
The research is consistent with the Iceman spending his childhood in the southern Alpine valleys before migrating further north in adulthood. Alternatively, he could have spent his summers up in the mountains and moved down to the valleys in the winter. This is a pattern of seasonal migration that started in the Middle Neolithic period and is still practiced today.
Sources: CNN (30 October 2003), Ananova, BBC News (31 October 2003)
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