Genetics of the Ötzi and Altai Ice Girl – Our ancestors are in us (5.)


The fastest growing science at the turn of the millennium is archeogenetics. As fast as it develops, it has such a strong help in the human sciences (e.g., historical research, archeology, anthropology) that, in addition to their research, there was a lack of a reliable natural science with its exact methods. In our series, we explore this increasingly exciting topic and the interest of more and more people with the help of the staff of the Institute of Archeogenomics of the Research Center for the Humanities. This time Anna Anna Szécsényi-Nagy, Director of the Institute of Archeogenomics, talks about the topic indicated in the title. The institute spun off from the Institute of Archeology at the research center in the first half of last year and officially operates independently, in addition to which it has been given the research lab in which they previously worked.

The subject is also exciting because the almost completely intact male body Ötzi, which emerged from one of the melting glaciers of the Southern Alps in 1991, is about the same age, or perhaps even earlier, than the pharaohs of the Old Kingdom of Egypt (2800-2200 BC). The Alpine Ice Man may have lived around 3300 BC, in the early Bronze Age, when the first cities were established in Egypt and the city-states of the Sumerian civilization, such as Ur, and the Botanian culture of Central Asia already existed. Yet we know much more about it than we do about the famous rulers. Well, of course, not about his victorious wars, conquests, pyramids, but about his human nature. The man named Ötztal from the Tyrolean Ötztal Valley was one of the greatest gifts of archaeogenetics by nature. The “Altai Ice Girl”, which is also in fantastic condition, was found in 1993, but has not yet been studied as thoroughly as the Alpine Ice Man, or the results of the studies have not been published on international scientific grounds. Therefore, he found a corpse similar in integrity to Ötzi, but much younger, with all sorts of names, according to what it was thought to be in its former earthly existence: Princess Altai, Priestess Altai, Ice Girl, Gyévuska.

How are these two former people similar and different?

Despite the great differences in time and space between Ötzi and the Ice Girl (so called) – about 10,000 kilometers and 2,500 years – there are still several connections between them. Both of them were preserved by ice, and both are unique finds. Ötzi is also an important find because it is the oldest natural mummy in Europe, whose body, tools and tattoos are not only his body. From all this, as well as from the physical anthropological examinations and tools, it is possible to deduce with high probability his lifestyle and occupation (he may have been a mountain shepherd). Moreover, what provided not only valuable information not only to scientists but also to the people living today: its internal organs, its gut flora, have been traced, the last day of his life could be traced: where he went, what he ate, how he died. What kind of pollen grains remained in her hair, what kind of animal skin her clothes and shoes were, how tall and how many pounds she could have had. Equally important information was that it was possible to find out about his illnesses or his predisposition to them.

For example?

According to a study published in the journal Nature Communications in 2012, he was prone to cardiovascular disease, may have had Lyme disease, and had a history of lactose intolerance. Not only the bacterial communities found in his intestinal system revealed existing or expected diseases, but also the DNA samples in his mouth and tartar. Incidentally, the bacterium Helicobacter pylori found in its intestinal tract suggests that it may have had stomach pain, an infection that could possibly lead to a stomach ulcer.

As far as I know, this bacterium is common in today’s European and even today’s Hungarian population, and of course in the range of diseases it causes. Is this the same bacterium that was found in Ötzi?

Well, studying this strain of bacteria is a real scientific treat for researchers. The bacterial genome found in Ötzi is similar to that found in the intestinal flora of humans today, but belongs to an Asian (most commonly found in northern India) bacterial strain today. Today’s Europeans, on the other hand, have a type later than five derived from a mixture of Asian and African bacterial strains. Thus, through Ötzi, we were able to get an earliest date for these pathogen lines to meet. Of course, we do not think that Ötzi came from India, let there be no misunderstanding. Further findings are needed for the post-Copper history of this bacterium.

What do we know about Ötzi’s genetics?

Ötzi’s maternal line (mitochondrial DNA) was examined in 2008, which was some incredibly heroic work with the technical possibilities at the time – a testament to the tremendous advances in methods of examining archaeogenetics: today it would be a few days ’work. It turns out to belong to a haplogroup found in 5-10 percent of today’s European population. The subgroup to which Ötzi also belonged has now disappeared. People from Anatolia, who also carried this haplogroup about 6-8 thousand years ago, naturalized and spread agriculture, farming and animal husbandry in Europe. The five sons thus did not have any maternal relatives, but the people with whom their paternal lineage could be related left genetic descendants, most notably in Sardinia and Corsica.

What could be the reason for this?

It is most likely that there have been huge population movements on the contiguous mainland in the last five thousand years (and now I would not only refer to migration), while only a few of them have reached these two islands. Tyrolean researchers have found 19 thousands of Tyroleans living in the area today who carry Ötzi’s Y chromosome, so they may have relatives (possibly descendants) on the paternal branch. Going back to Ötzi’s ancestors, those people, according to their genetic stock (as I mentioned), apparently came from Anatolia, populated Europe through the Balkans and the Carpathian Basin to Alsace and the Vistula Valley. Ötzi also belonged to this paternal line, which is very characteristic of the typical Neolithic population engaged in farming and animal husbandry, despite the fact that he was already living in a later period, the Copper Age. At the full genome level, however, Ötzi is similar to, but not distinct from, the Copper Age populations in the area.

We know much less about the Ice Girl.

Indeed, much less data about it has entered the international information flow. Various physical and MRI scans have been performed on the mummy to suspect his illness and cause of death, but the genetic results are uncertain. If we take a closer look, we can find clues mainly in blogs and at most popular scientific newspaper articles, but these are not serious, scientific publications. I tried to contact a colleague from Novosibirsk by email, but so far no response has been received. In the meantime, it is certain that he may not have been an ordinary mortal, since the burial conditions uncovered are as if he were at least a tribal chief or his wife. That’s why they thought (and of course communicated) all sorts of ideas about it. To say just two really striking things: they were buried with a huge, special headdress and six horses were buried next to them, these were not typical of the burial of contemporary women.

And as far as I know, there were some extremely interesting tattoos on her body.

Yes, like Ötzin, although they are separated by almost two thousand years.

We are so much separated from the priestess, and tattooing is back in vogue today. I wonder how our culture today will be named in two to three or five thousand years. Do we know what people and cultures this Ice Girl belonged to?

Naturally. In the so-called Paziriki culture and among the Scythian peoples. There are clear signs of this in, for example, deer-shaped tattoos, tomb attachments, and, of course, funeral conditions. To approach from an archaeogenetic point of view: the genetic traits of the Paziriki culture have already been studied earlier (completely independent of the Ice Girl) along paternal and maternal lines, and mainly European types have been found among them. The Scythians are a collective name that covers many groups and peoples. The first major work on their genetic origins was published last year, using complete ancient genomes. All we know is that they came from the Late Bronze Age peoples living on the steppes between the Urals and the Altai, on the one hand, and a group of Inner Asia (to the best of our knowledge, present in northern Mongolia) on the other. In addition, they also show minor and varying degrees of bacterial genes (Bacteria is a fertile region between the Hindus and the Pamirs). The Altai can be seen as a meeting point between East Asia and Western Siberia for thousands of years. In other words, the Scythians were also the result of a great deal of popularity, and this process is typical of almost every other contemporary population. Well, the Ice Girl is from such a people.


Source: Népszava by nepszava.hu.

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