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Was world-famous iceman mummy the victim of foul play?

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 11th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

One of the most-studied ancient human specimens ever, Ítzi the Iceman mummy died roughly 5,300 years ago. Ever since hikers stumbled upon his astonishingly well-preserved frozen body in the Alps in 1991, researchers have extensively studied his remains in order to get a better idea of what primitive man was like. Now, it appears that Ítzi may have been the victim of foul play . a murder mystery extending over thousands of years.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A wound reveals that Ítzi was hit in the shoulder with a deadly artery-piercing arrow. In addition, an undigested meal in the Iceman's stomach suggests he was ambushed, scientists say.

A CAT scan conducted a few years ago showed dark spots at the back of the mummy's cerebrum, indicating Ítzi also suffered a blow to the head that knocked his brain against the back of his skull during the fatal attack.

From what has been previously determined, Ítzi was a 45-year-old, hide-wearing, tattooed agriculturalist native of Central Europe. He suffered from heart disease, joint pain, tooth decay and probably Lyme disease before he died - but none of these were factors in his death. Scientists say he likely suffered head injury before he died roughly 5,300 years ago, according to a new protein analysis of his brain tissue.

In the new study, scientists who looked at pinhead-sized samples of brain tissue from the corpse found traces of clotted blood cells, suggesting Ítzi indeed suffered bruising in his brain shortly before his death.

The major piece missing from this seeming murder mystery is that it remains unclear whether Ítzi's brain injury was caused by being bashed over the head or by falling after being struck with the arrow, the researchers say.

The study was focused on proteins found in two brain samples from Ítzi, recovered with the help of a computer-controlled endoscope. Of the 502 different proteins identified, 10 were related to blood and coagulation, the researchers said. They also found evidence of an accumulation of proteins related to stress response and wound healing.

Research in 2012 showed traces of a clotting protein called fibrin, which appears in human blood immediately after a person sustains a wound but disappears quickly. The fact that it was still in Ítzi's blood when he died suggests he didn't survive long after the injury.

Proteins are less susceptible to environmental contamination than DNA, and, in the case of mummies, they can reveal what kinds of cells the body was producing at the time of death.

"Proteins are the decisive players in tissues and cells, and they conduct most of the processes which take place in cells," Andreas Tholey, a scientist at Germany's Kiel University and a researcher on the new Ítzi study, said in a statement.

"Identification of the proteins is therefore key to understanding the functional potential of a particular tissue," Tholey added. "DNA is always constant, regardless of from where it originates in the body, whereas proteins provide precise information about what is happening in specific regions within the body."


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