Thanks to ancient DNA, nineteen living descendants of Oetzi the Iceman have been found in the Tyrol.
Remember Oetzi (or Ötzi, if you prefer), the Copper Age Tyrolean Iceman, whose 5,300-year-old frozen body was found in the Austrian Alps? Discovered in September 1991, Oetzi was named for the place where he was discovered, in the Ötztal Alps on the border between Austria and Italy. Scientists estimate Oetzi the Iceman lay undiscovered for 5,300 years.
The EURAC-Institute for Mummies and the Iceman uses minimally invasive “investigation methods, such as computer tomography, nanotechnology, molecular and biological approaches, as well as ancient DNA research.”
It’s that ancient DNA research that’s so cool to us genealogists. Scientists compared Oetzi’s genome with modern European populations and discovered 19 living descendants in the Tyrolean region of Austria. Yet, most interestingly, they believe the Iceman was most closely related to men from Sardinia and Corsica.
Robert T. Gonzalez at io9 writes:
These islands (labeled here in red) are separated from Ötzi’s final resting place (marked here with a red circle) by over three hundred miles and a sizable body of water. That’s pretty incredible, if you think about it. On one hand, it suggests that Ötzi’s descendents may have once inhabited a much larger portion of mainland Europe, only to die out — or become part of a much more diverse genetic pool — save for the inhabitants of these two, isolated islands. It also points to the evolutionarily isolating effects that islands can have on a population’s genetic makeup. The fact that these islanders have “remained moored to their genetic past, enough so that a 5,300 year old individual clearly can exhibit affinities with them,” as Gene Expression’s Razib Khan puts it, is pretty extraordinary.
The research that led to these discoveries has been a rollercoaster.
In 1994, research indicated a small section of Oetzi’s DNA would match with descendants living in Europe. In 2008, Martin Richards of Leeds University, wrote, “Our research suggests that Otzi’s lineage may indeed have become extinct,” and that “Oetzi belonged to a previously unidentified lineage that has not been seen in modern European populations.”
And just five years later, here we are with living descendants. The men have not been told about their connection to Oetzi yet. Oetzi was discovered before I figured out that my great-grandfather was from the Tyrol. Wouldn’t it be great if Oetzi belongs on my tree or rather I belong on his?
The Iceman’s genome can be found at nature.com. Nineteen Living Descendants of Oetzi the Iceman … and counting.