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Death in the Ice: Re-investigations of the Remains from the Theodul Glacier (Switzerland)

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Abstract

Scattered human and animal bones, weapons, knives, jewellery, coins, leather fragments and fabrics were found at the Upper Theodul glacier (Switzerland) between 1984 and the early 1990s. The finds are assumed to represent a single fatal event. Until recently, the remains were interpreted as those of a mercenary. All objects and fabrics were restored and investigated by experts on behalf of the Valais History Museum using macroscopic, microscopic and typological methods. The animal bones were sorted, identified and attributed to species. The human remains, the main focus of this article, were investigated using standard osteological methods, computed tomography, and stable isotope analysis. The bones belong to an adult male individual who was wearing woollen and silk clothes and leather shoes. He was equipped with a rapier, a dagger and a wheel-lock pistol that were probably manufactured in Germany. Due to their type, it is unlikely that the weapons were used as military arms. The coins were mainly minted in Northern Italy and date the fatal event on the Theodul glacier to around 1600 AD. The associated finds, in particular the weapons, contest the former interpretation as a mercenary and suggest an identification as a traveller or tradesman.

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Most cited references 31

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New insights into the Tyrolean Iceman's origin and phenotype as inferred by whole-genome sequencing.

The Tyrolean Iceman, a 5,300-year-old Copper age individual, was discovered in 1991 on the Tisenjoch Pass in the Italian part of the Ötztal Alps. Here we report the complete genome sequence of the Iceman and show 100% concordance between the previously reported mitochondrial genome sequence and the consensus sequence generated from our genomic data. We present indications for recent common ancestry between the Iceman and present-day inhabitants of the Tyrrhenian Sea, that the Iceman probably had brown eyes, belonged to blood group O and was lactose intolerant. His genetic predisposition shows an increased risk for coronary heart disease and may have contributed to the development of previously reported vascular calcifications. Sequences corresponding to ~60% of the genome of Borrelia burgdorferi are indicative of the earliest human case of infection with the pathogen for Lyme borreliosis.
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Stable isotope ecology

B Fry, B FRY (2006)
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New method of collagen extraction for radiocarbon dating.

R Longin (1971)

Author and article information

Journal
Journal of Glacial Archaeology
JGA
Equinox Publishing
2050-3393
2050-3407
May 31 2016
December 14 2015
: 2
: 0
: 35-50
© 2016

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