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Thread: New Iceman Is Fit, Nearly Naked—And Too Old?

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    Lightbulb New Iceman Is Fit, Nearly Naked—And Too Old?

    Oddly unbundled against the Alpine cold, "Ötzi" the Iceman steps out in a new, older-looking reconstruction of the famous 5,300-year-old Alpine mummy. After a partial preview last week, the full re-creation was unveiled Tuesday.

    In reality, the Iceman dressed for the weather.

    Artifacts found near his body high in the Ötzal Alps of Italy suggest Ötzi died with not only his leather, grass-insulated boots on but also head-to-toe animal skins, including a fur hat, and a cape of braided grasses. (Related: "Iceman Wore Cattle, Sheep Hides; May Have Been a Herder.")

    The new model is half naked only "to show that his body was muscular and well trained," said anthropologist Albert Zink, who worked with forensic artists on the reconstruction.

    "For sure, it would have been too cold to walk around like this, especially in the mountains," said Zink, head of the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy.

    Found in a melting glacier in 1991, Ötzi was preserved in ice for millennia after having been slain by an arrow. The new reconstruction is the centerpiece of an exhibition at Bolzano's South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology marking the 20th anniversary of the Iceman mummy's discovery.

    —Ted Chamberlain
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    Icy Stare




    Starting with last week's sneak preview of the Iceman's reconstructed head, the grizzled visage of the new-model Ötzi has surprised even some experts. In earlier renderings, the Iceman looks very much his age at death—about 45, according to bone studies and other research.

    "To me, he seems a bit too old, to be honest," Zink said.

    The artists, he said, based the new, old appearance, in part, on living mountain people, such as traditional Tibetans. Due to sun exposure and hard living, he added, "they indeed look a bit older than they are."

    The color of the Iceman's coif, too, may be beyond the pale, Zink said. Though brown strands have been found, "we have no evidence of gray hair."

    But, he added—even though the new model is based on new DNA revelations and 3-D scans of Ötzi's body—the finishing touches remain works of art, not science. "People should not take it too seriously."

    One big change, though, is rooted in cold, hard facts. According to new DNA evidence, Ötzi's eyes were brown, not blue, as originally thought.

    Though the mummy's genome is still being unraveled, Zink's team slipped the eye-color info to the artists in advance.
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    Utility Belt



    A woven-grass sheath on the Iceman reconstruction's loincloth holds an ash-handled dagger with a flint tip—replicas of artifacts found near the mummy.

    Other tools found around the mummy include an unstrung bow, a quiver of mostly unfinished arrows, potentially medicinal fungus, and an antler-tipped stick, likely for shaping flint.

    Perhaps most telling, though, is the copper-bladed ax found by the Iceman's side.

    In the Copper Age the tool would have been a major status symbol, experts say—leading to theories that Ötzi was killed by political rivals from the valley village where he's believed to have lived.
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    A Head for Art



    Adrie Kennis cradles the head of the new Iceman model, which he helped create with his brother Alfons Kennis. Perhaps inspired by the knowledge that Ötzi was felled by an arrow, the Dutch forensic artists purposely gave the Iceman a new, "not so confident" look.

    "We wanted to make a reconstruction that reflected a man moving through the mountains, who is maybe scared and being followed by someone," the Kennises said in a press statement. "It was important for us to show the tension in his face."

    In their attempt at uncompromised realism, the brothers used silicon, rubber, clay, resin, iron rods and wore, and hair from Scottish Highland cattle.
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    Like Looking in a Mirror



    Twin brothers Adrie (left) and Alfons Kennis, who helped build and flesh out the new Iceman model, go face-to-face with some of their other creations.

    Specializing in reconstructions of early humans, the Kennisses have had their work featured in museums across Europe—and in the pages of National Geographic, for which they created the first Neanderthal model based on DNA evidence (pictures).

    Despite some viewers' surprise at the new Iceman model's aged appearance, "in the end we can say that we are satisfied with our reconstruction," they said in a statement.

    Zink, the anthropologist, said that, overall, the new Ötzi reconstruction "is much better than the old one—more like a living person, a living face. People will be really impressed."
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    Picking the Iceman's Brain



    Pathologist Eduard Egarter Vigl examines the Iceman mummy in an undated picture.

    Vigl, head of conservation at Ötzi's "home," the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, suggests that current Ötzi knowledge is only the tip of the iceberg.

    "Innumerable doors have ... been opened through the decoding of his entire genome. ... ," he said in a statement. By April, when the Iceman genome is to be published, we should have clues to Ötzi's ancestral origins, blood group, disposition to disease, and more, according to Vigl.

    To Zink, the anthropologist, the revelations could be even farther reaching.

    "Apart from the discoveries concerning the life and history of the South Tyrolean population of over 5,000 years ago," he said in a statement, "the decoding of the Iceman's genome offers us a unique opportunity to make important discoveries about the genetic bases of so-called common disorders such as diabetes and circulatory system diseases."
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