'Ice man' at center of research frenzy


DALLAS -- The Tyrolean "ice man" has been busy lately.

After a peaceful, 5,000-year entombment in an Alps glacier that ended last fall with his discovery by hikers, the mummified Late Neolithic corpse has been wheeled from lab to freezer to lab in a frenzy of anthropological research.

Austrian, German and Swedish scientists have measured, probed and tested the ice man in examinations. The tests were limited to 30 minutes to prevent his thawing out. They reported their results Friday in the journal Science.

They have found that the Tyrolean ice man was short -- about 5 feet 2 or 5 feet 3 -- even by Late Neolithic standards. And he was getting along in years. By examining his teeth and skull, the scientists estimated that he was 25 to 40 years old when he died of exhaustion on a high pass in what is now Italy, near the Austrian border.

"If it's 40, then the fellow was old," said Sarunas Milisauskas, an anthropologist at the State University of New York at Buffalo. "If it's 25, then he was a mature individual."

Mr. Milisauskas said that during the Late Neolithic period, 50 percent of the population died by the age of 14 or 15.

Scientists were able to retrieve the ice man's leather clothing, copper axe, knife, bow and arrows and his shoes, which were stuffed with hay.

"It's a real fluke to find him there," said Bernard Wailes, an anthropology professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

The European researchers conclude he must have mummified even before the ice consumed him. The anthropologists theorize that the man was on his way across the Alps when a storm overcame him, and he lay down and died of exhaustion.

"It sounds like hypothermia," Mr. Wailes said.

Anthropologists have recovered a treasure trove of artifacts from the ice man. He had a copper axe, a bow and arrow and a flint knife.

"He seems to have been pretty well-equipped for being at that altitude, whatever the hell he was doing there," Mr. Wailes said.

Mr. Milisauskas agreed, saying that the Late Neolithic people of the Alps lived in valleys and frequently hunted and herded animals at high altitudes.

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