Bacteria Heats Up Iceman's Fate

In this photo made available by the Archeological Museum of the Alto Adige in Bolzano,northern Italy, a researcher inspects the 5,300-year-old mummy known as Oetzi in this Sept. 25, 2000 file photo. Researchers suspect that the corpse of the mummy frozen in the Italian Alps might have been contaminated by bacteria since its discovery by a hiker in 1991, a doctor who cares for the body said Monday, June 13, 2005. AP

Researchers suspect the corpse of a 5,000-year-old mummy frozen in the Italian Alps might have been contaminated by bacteria since its discovery in 1991, a doctor who cares for the body said Monday.

X-rays have shown bubbles in the bones that could be caused by bacteria, said Eduard Egarter Vigl, in charge of preserving the mummy at the South Tyrol Archaeological Museum in Bolzano, Italy.

The museum is trying to find local companies that can analyze the air in the sealed-off chamber where the mummy is kept to test for the presence of bacteria, Egarter Vigl said in a telephone interview.

He denied media reports that the bacteria could cause the disintegration of the Iceman, also known as Oetzi. But if bacteria are present, disinfection will be necessary to prevent possible damage to the man's remains, he said.

Egarter Vigl said the bubbles, which caused light patches to appear on Oetzi's skeleton, could also be caused by air entering through cracks in the mummy's skin and bones, which would present no risk to the mummy's survival.

German hiker Helmut Simon discovered Oetzi's well-preserved body during a 1991 hiking trip.

Oetzi is kept in an "igloo" made out of ice tiles to keep him in cold and humid conditions. Museum visitors can view Iceman through a small window.

Oetzi has provided researchers with a wealth of information about the late Neolithic Age, or 3,300 to 3,100 B.C.

He was carrying a bow, a quiver of arrows and a copper ax, prompting speculation that he was a hunter or warrior.

X-rays have revealed that Oetzi was wounded by an arrow, with the flint arrowhead remaining in his left shoulder.

Previous tests have shown that his last meals included venison, unleavened bread and some greens.

Egarter Vigl said the museum was also considering requests to carry out more research, including DNA tests, to discover further details of Oetzi's life.
  • Jaime Holguin

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