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Home » News

Iceman’s origins discovered at Stanford

Article / Review by on February 28, 2012 – 7:28 pmNo Comments

Iceman’s origins discovered at Stanford

Several science news outlets are reporting today that the whole genome of the Iceman mummy (discovered in 1991 in the Italian Alps) has been sequenced, with interesting results. In particular, he likely had brown eyes and was lactose intolerant. But the sequence also gives clues as to where the mummy’s ancestors called home. Surprisingly, it’s not mainland Italy, but instead the islands of Corsica or Sardinia. Stanford geneticists Carlos Bustamante, PhD, and Peter Underhill, PhD, conducted the analysis and are co-authors on the paper, which is published in Nature Communications.

Scientific American describes more of the work:

Intriguingly, comparison of the Iceman’s genome with DNA from present-day populations linked him not to mainland European groups, but to people from the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. Study co-author Peter Underhill of Stanford University observes that there are two possibilities for how someone with a Sardinian genetic signature ended up in the Alps 5,300 years ago. “The presence of similar genetic heritage to [the] Iceman persisting in modern day Sardinians is suggestive that Sardinia represents a relic distribution of the gene pool that was in place on the Italian mainland during prehistoric  times but now has largely been transformed by subsequent population events such as migrations, genetic mixing, etc.,” he offers. “Sometime during the past [10,000] years some people with a genetic constitution similar to [the] Iceman’s colonized Sardinia. This isolated region/gene pool was more impervious to events that transpired on the mainland.” Alternatively, Underhill notes, the Iceman’s parents may have have traveled to the mainland from Sardinia. Archaeologists have found volcanic glass (obsidian) on the mainland that originated from Mt. Arci on Sardinia, indicating that trade existed between Sardinia and the mainland. Perhaps the Iceman’s parents were involved in that trade, Underhill speculates.

By Krista Conger
Stanford University Medical Center

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* Stanford University Medical Center integrates research, medical education and patient care at its three institutions – Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.

**  The above story is adapted from materials provided by Stanford University School of Medicine

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