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Significance Of Discovery

Studying the Iceman is important to many branches of science, including archaeology, biology, geology, and pathology. The Iceman, stored at 21°F (-6°C) and 98% relative humidity, is removed for observation or sample collection for no longer than 20 minutes at a time.

The body was found naturally "freeze dried" at an altitude of about 10,500 ft (3,200 m). Prior to the find, archaeologists had never excavated for evidence of human activity at such high altitudes in Europe. Geologists wondered how the Iceman was spared the grinding forces of glacial ice, and why he was not transported down the mountain within an ice flow. Fortunately, the corpse lay in a rock-rimmed depression below a ridge. The Iceman remained entombed in a stable ice pocket within this depression, undisturbed as the glacier flowed overhead.

The Iceman's axe, flint knife, bow and arrows, leather pouch, grass cape, leather shoes, and other accessories provide a glimpse of everyday life during Europe's Copper Age. The Iceman's leather clothing is rare indeed. The only evidence of leather workmanship typically recovered at an archeological site is a leather scraper.

Scientists have analyzed the Iceman's bone, blood, DNA, and stomach contents to assess the presence of diseases, his social status, occupation, diet, and general health. Studies of his teeth suggest a diet of coarse grain; studies of his hair suggest a vegetarian diet at the time of his death. Analyses indicate he was 5ft 2in (1.5 m), 110 lb (50 kg), and approximately 25-35 years of age at death. Scientists speculate that the Iceman died of exposure.

Biologists identified slowberries in his birch bark container, suggesting he died in the autumn, when the berries ripen. Speculation that he belonged to an agricultural community is based on the grains of ancient wheat found with the corpse.

Although errors made in handling and preserving the body destroyed our chances to answer certain questions, there is much the Iceman will teach us about life 5,000 years ago. For example, the Iceman's tattoos are 2,500 years older than any seen before. Placed on his body in locations not easily observed and thought to correspond with acupuncture points, they raise the question that acupuncture may have been practiced earlier than thought and possibly began in Eurasia not east Asia.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Hydrazones to IncompatibilityIceman - Age Determination, Significance Of Discovery