The 5,300-year-old Etzi mummy, known as the oldest intact human body ever discovered, has long attracted worldwide attention for its mysterious origins. However, a groundbreaking new study by scientists from Germany’s Max Planck Institute suggests that our previous ideas about Ötzi may be completely wrong. The study shows that Ötzi was not a hairy Caucasian hunter-gatherer, as previously thought, but a peasant with dark skin and a balding head.
The researchers’ analysis of the genome revealed surprising phenotypic traits that contradict previous reconstructions of Etzi’s appearance. According to evolutionary anthropologist Johannes Krause, the findings show “high skin pigmentation, dark eye color and male pattern baldness,” in stark contrast to previous conceptions of a light-skinned, bright-eyed and hairy man.
While scientists have made significant discoveries about Etzi’s diet and even his possible voice, his appearance has remained a mystery until now. The first study of Etzi’s genome in 2012 showed his close kinship to modern Sardinians, suggesting that he was descended from Eastern and Caucasian hunter-gatherers who merged in the 5th millennium.
However, the new study casts doubt on this assumption, finding no such ancestors in Etzi’s genome. Instead, the researchers found an “unusually high” presence of Anatolian agricultural ancestors, higher than any other known population in Europe at the time. This suggests that Ötzi was closely related to an Anatolian line of Neolithic agriculturalists who later migrated to Italy but remained isolated in the Alps.
The researchers hypothesize that Ötzi’s ancestors began mixing with hunter-gatherers in other parts of Europe just a few dozen generations before his birth, suggesting a relatively short evolutionary time for the population. This genetic mixing is likely responsible for Ötzi’s unique genetic structure and physical features.
Further analysis of the Etzi genome revealed evidence of an agricultural diet and darker skin pigmentation compared to modern European populations. The presence of risk alleles associated with male pattern baldness also suggests that Ötzi had black hair, consistent with the appearance of the mummy itself. Previous studies have attributed Ötzi’s dark and hairless appearance to his millennia-old frosting, but the new results suggest that this is likely how he was when he was alive.
While the study recognizes that Etzi’s genome represents a single individual and may not fully reflect the population history of his time and region, the findings are consistent with other ancient humans found in Italy. Another corpse found in the Southern Alps region is also of high Anatolian-arthropod origin, confirmed by recent genomic studies.
This groundbreaking study sheds new light on the origin and physical characteristics of Ötzi, disproving our previous assumptions and providing a more accurate picture of this ancient man. The study emphasizes the importance of DNA analysis in reconstructing the past and draws attention to the complexity of human migration and genetic mixing throughout history.