Europe’s Iceman was a valley guy

Hikers in the Alps took a big step back in time in 1991, when they came upon a man’s frozen, mummified body. Scientists have now tracked the geographic origins of the 5,200-year-old Iceman to an area encompassing a few valleys about 37 miles southeast of where his body turned up.

The findings show that people inhabited central Europe’s Alpine valleys at the time of the Iceman’s demise, say Wolfgang Müller of Australian National University in Canberra and his colleagues. During that period, much of Europe witnessed the spread of farming villages and the growth of a copper industry.

Müller’s team compared the chemical composition of the Iceman’s teeth, bones, and intestines that of soils and water throughout the region.

Chemical signatures of particular locales are deposited in people’s bodies by food and drink. Analyses mainly focused on specific forms of strontium, lead, oxygen, and carbon.

The Iceman spent his entire life based in the area south of the Italy-Austria border, where his body was discovered, the researchers conclude in the Oct. 31 Science. He may have lived in a group that raised livestock and migrated seasonally from low-altitude settlements to summer grazing areas in the mountains, they propose.


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Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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