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Last Updated: Friday, 31 October, 2003, 03:53 GMT
Iceman mystery solved
By Helen Briggs
BBC News Online

|mage: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology
The iceman was discovered by German tourists trekking in the Otz Valley
Scientists have pinpointed the likely birthplace of Oetzi the famous iceman.

The ancient hunter probably spent his childhood in what is now the Italian South Tyrol village of Feldthurns.

Evidence suggests his lifelong travels were confined to a 60-kilometre (37-mile) range south-east of where his body was found.

The 5,300-year-old frozen mummy emerged from a melting glacier along the mountainous border between Italy and Austria in 1991.

Scientists have been carrying out detailed studies of how he lived and died ever since.

The latest research, published in the journal Science, looked at isotopes found in the iceman's teeth and bones.

They were compared with soil and water samples over a wide area of the Alps.

Isotopic 'fingerprint'

Biominerals from the diet are deposited in the body at different times - in the teeth, for example, during childhood, and in the bones in adult life.

This is the first time that anyone has made a comprehensive study of the migration of a human in the past
Prof Alex Halliday
This allowed researchers in Australia, the United States and Switzerland to deduce where Oetzi lived at various stages of his life.

The team believes his movements were restricted to a few valleys within 60 kilometres south-east of where his body was discovered.

He never moved north of this point and probably grew up in the Eisack valley, in the southern Tyrol.

Several ancient archaeological sites in and around this region have been identified.

The scientists think Feldthurns is the iceman's most likely childhood home: excavations have revealed a standing stone dating back to the Copper Age.

Migration patterns

Later on in life, he moved further north to the mountains of lower Vinschgau, before travelling to the Otz valley where he met his death at the age of 46.

Dr Alexander Halliday of the Department of Earth Sciences at RTH Zurich told BBC News Online: "This is the first time that anyone has made a comprehensive study of the migration of a human in the past.

"It looks like he lived much of his life in a different valley from where he was born.

"The impression one gets is that the Alpine valleys in that particular area were fairly well-inhabited."

The research is consistent with the iceman spending his childhood in the southern Alpine valleys before migrating further north in adulthood.

Alternatively, he could have spent his summers up in the mountains and moved down to the valleys in the winter.

This is a pattern of seasonal migration that started in the Middle Neolithic period and is still practiced today.




SEE ALSO:
Blood clues to iceman's death
12 Aug 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Iceman's final meal
16 Sep 02  |  Science/Nature
Iceman's final battle
20 Mar 02  |  Science/Nature


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