Ötzi the Iceman has at least 19 living male relatives in the Austrian Tirol, according to a genetic study into the origins of the people who now inhabit the region.
Scientists from the Institute of Legal Medicine at Innsbruck Medical University analyzed DNA samples taken from 3,700 blood donors in the Tyrol region of Austria.
During their study, they discovered that 19 individuals share a particular genetic mutation with the 5,300-year-old mummy, whose full genome was published last year.
“These men and the Iceman had the same ancestors,” Walther Parson, the forensic scientist who carried out the study, told the Austrian Press Agency.
The researchers focused on parts of the human DNA which are generally inherited unchanged.
“In men it is the Y chromosomes and in females the mitochondria. Eventual changes arise due to mutations, which are then inherited further,” Parson explained.
People with the same mutations are categorized in haplogroups. Designed with letters, haplogroups allow researchers to trace early migratory routes since they are often associated with defined populations and geographical regions.
Indeed, Ötzi’s haplogroup is very rare in Europe.
“The Iceman had the halogroup G, sub category G-L91. In our research we found another 19 people with this genetic group and subgroup,” Parson said.
Having carried Y chromosome haplogroup analysis, Parson was able to trace only the male descendants of the Neolithic man.
So far the 19 individuals have not been informed of their genetic relationship to Ötzi.
Found in 1991 in a melting glacier in the Ötztal Alps (hence the name), the mummy is one of the most heavily investigated human corpses of all time.
Scientists discovered that Ötzi had brown eyes and very bad teeth, was lactose intolerant, had a genetic predisposition for an increased risk for coronary heart disease and probably had Lyme disease.
It’s certain he died a violent death: In 2007, CT scans showed that an arrowhead had lacerated his left subclavian artery, leading to fast bleeding.
CAT scan of the mummy’s brain and a paleoproteomic study have recently pointed to a cerebral trauma — a violent blow to the head — as the cause of death.
As investigation into the mummy continues, new relatives, alive and well, could be added to the list of the 19 descendants.
According to Parson, the genetic mutation might be also found in the nearby Swiss region of Engadine and in Italy’s South Tyrol region.
“We have already found Swiss and Italian partners so that we can continue our research,” he said.
Image: Facial reconstruction of Ötzi the Iceman. Credit: Heike Engel-21Lux/SÜdtiroler Archäologiemuseum