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Iceman revisited

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A body discovered in a glacial pool in Italy in 1991 was named ‘Iceman’ and is now preserved in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, in Bolzano, Italy. He died 5300 years ago aged about 46.

His tattoos are likely to be medical, and probably indicate a form of sensory stimulation like acupuncture, though they are not easy to explain by his known pathology.

In the thoracolumbar region, tattoos are present on the left side at: T12—L1, L2-L3 and L5-S1; and on the right side, at L4. A residual R 12th rib and transitional 5th lumbar vertebra have recently been identified and may have been sources of pain.

Osteoarthritis is present on the right hip joint. Tattoos are present around the right knee, but since this joint was free from arthritis, they may relate to pain referred from hip or lumbosacral area. Finally, both lower legs and ankles are tattooed – possibly also related to referred pain as well as, speculatively, chronic ligament injury.

The findings are reviewed in: Kean WF, Tocchio S, Kean M, et al. The musculoskeletal abnormalities of the Similaun Iceman (Ötzi): clues to chronic pain and possible treatments. Inflammopharmacology. Published Online First: 25 October 2012. doi: 10.1155/2012/563734

Copyright South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology and reproduced with kind permission.

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