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Scientists Find Living Relatives Of 5,000 Year Old Man Found Frozen In Austria

You may remember several years ago when the body of a man was found in the Austrian Alps, his body frozen in near perfect condition and carrying what must have been the tools and other items of his long gone era. Incredibly, it appears that genetic relatives of this unknown man have been found living in Austria: (Be aware that the link includes a picture of the preserved skeleton that some my find disturbing:

Experts from Innsbruck Medical University compared DNA samples taken from the mummy, nicknamed Otzi, with those taken from 3,700 blood donors in the Tyrol region of Austria and managed to match a particular genetic mutation.

“We found 19 men have the same ancestry as Otzi,” said Walther Parson, the forensic scientist who carried out the study. “These men and the Tyrolean Iceman had the same ancestors.”

The discovery was made during a broader study into determining the origins of the people who now inhabit the Alpine regions. Along with their blood the donors were asked to provide their place of birth and family history, but Mr Parson said that so far they have not been informed of their genetic link to Otzi.

He added that his team had partners in neighbouring Switzerland and Italy looking for the same mutation in their populations.

Preserved in ice, Otzi was found by two German tourists in the Otztal Alps on the Austrian-Italian border in 1991. At first it was thought the corpse was the body of a mountaineer or a soldier from the First World War but Otzi became a scientific sensation when tests revealed he died over 5,000 years ago.

Painstaking research revealed what his last meals were, where he lived and that he was about 45 years old when he met his demise high on the mountain. Scientists believe he died from a blow to the back of the head, prompting speculation that Otzi may have been murdered.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this finding is the extent to which it shows that, for much of our most recent history, humans have stayed fairly close to where their ancestors started out. If one exhumed the remains of people who died at a comparable times in other parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa, it’s quite likely that you’d find a similar phenomenon. Here in the Western Hemisphere it would likely be less true, and now that we live in the far more mobile society we are fast entering the era where someone born and raised in Central Europe within the past century is just as likely to have descendants in the American Mid-West as they are in Austria or Switzerland.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Tim D. says:

    Doug, I’m not sure this story implies what you think it implies. Someone who lived 5000 years ago may well have an enormous number of potential descendants. The fact that 19 of them still live nearby is not necessarily significant one way or the other — at least that I can see.

    In fact, some statistical models of populations claim that the Most Recent Common Ancestor (i.e. an ancestor of every living human) lived between 2000 and 4000 years ago.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Most_recent_common_ancestor

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  2. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    More relevant, Otzi has been found to have been casting votes in Chicago as recently as last November. And he recently signed up for ObamaCare.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 9

  3. C. Clavin says:

    It annoys me that we are all related to Jenos… Talk about your weak link.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4

  4. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    More relevant, Otzi has been found to have been casting votes in Chicago as recently as last November. And he recently signed up for ObamaCare.

    Very interesting that, in taking all of that into consideration, he seems to be a lot more intelligent than the House Republican leadership and Ted Cruz combined. For example, he’s smart enough to know how to use a Health Insurance Exchange to get an inexpensive policy, and smart enough to know that it’s easier to commit voter fraud through absentee voting than with in-person voting.

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  5. Ron Beasley says:

    This doesn’t surprise me. When I lived in Munich I spent many a weekend in the Austrian Alps. Each valley had it’s own dialect and most of the population of those valleys looked like they might be related. Until recently I think this was pretty common – a tribal thing. If you have read anything by Jarrod Diamond he talks a lot about the tribal societies in New Guinea where everyone is related to everyone. Yes tribes that are close to each other trade women for wives but in the end that only results in individual tribes all be related to each other.

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  6. Am I the only one that thinks the revelation that Austria has apparently created a DNA database of everyone who donated blood to be more significant than the ice mummy part of the story?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  7. They say that Genghis Khan has 16 million descendants living today:
    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/02/0214_030214_genghis.html

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  8. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Am I the only one that thinks the revelation that Austria has apparently created a DNA database of everyone who donated blood to be more significant than the ice mummy part of the story?

    Holy crap… that is seriously disturbing. But at least it’s not like Austria has a history of producing fascists with psychotic ideas about eugenics or something…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Stormy Dragon: @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Am I the only one that thinks the revelation that Austria has apparently created a DNA database of everyone who donated blood to be more significant than the ice mummy part of the story?

    Yes, yes, by all means remain ignorant because who knows what evil may be done with that knowledge!

    (this logic applies to every thing man has ever learned about anything)

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  10. rudderpedals says:

    ice mummy

    Needs an ice daddy. Who’s your ice daddy?

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  11. Lounsbury says:

    @Tim D.:

    Quite right, he has rather fundamentally misread this. Population relatedness and movements are not best tracked by a single individual but looking at trait distributions, whic his already done.

    Of course it is banal to note that population movements have accelerated since at least 1492.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. Barry says:

    @Tim D.: “In fact, some statistical models of populations claim that the Most Recent Common Ancestor (i.e. an ancestor of every living human) lived between 2000 and 4000 years ago.”

    The New World, Australia, Polynesia…..

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  13. Tim D. says:

    @Lounsbury: Exactly. Or to put it another way, a study that samples one genetic marker in one region at one point in time is nowhere near being able to address the question of changes over time of human migration patterns. It’s still an interesting finding, tho.

    @Barry: Eh? Are you saying that those regions are genetically isolated? Or something?

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