Unravel the coldest case on record: Talk Otzi the Iceman in a Distinguished Lecture on May 14

“Otzi the Iceman,” a 5,300-year-old Copper Age/Neolithic man, was found in 1991 preserved in the Similaun Pass of the Otztal Alps at 10,500 feet between Italy and Austria. Since the discovery, extensive ongoing scientific investigations indicate that he is unique because “Otzi” is practically an archaeological site in himself.

Unlike any other human remains of this age discovered to date, nearly every bit of Otzi is preserved, including his clothing, tools, gear, weapons — even his last meals. Amazing forensic science has recovered many details about his life through the material technology he carried, including a rare and precious copper axe, and vital medical and bioarchaeological data. This includes his DNA and a full genome record, where he lived in the prehistoric Val Senales, and reconstructions and possible scenarios of how he was killed.

Not only did Otzi treat his own parasites, showing prehistoric human medicine, but he used and carried more than 10 different tree and plant products that survived in his glacial context. Even his weapons demonstrate early archery using spiraling arrows, suggesting prehistoric knowledge of aerodynamic stabilizing technology. For those fascinated with forensic and C.S.I. investigation, Otzi may be the “coldest case” on record.

Dr. Patrick Hunt of the Stanford Alpine Archaeology Project has studied Otzi’s tools and paleobotanical specimens in Bolzano, Italy, where Otzi resides frozen, as well as in the Otztal Alps where he lived and was found.

Meet Dr. Hunt at a Distinguished Lecture at HMNS on May 14.  This lecture is co-sponsored by Archaeological Institute of America – Houston Society with support of Applied Diagnostics and Dr. and Mrs. Arthur Bracey.

What: Distinguished Lecture: “Frozen in Time – The Story of Otzi the Iceman”
When: Tuesday, May 14, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Houston Museum of Natural Science main campus
How Much: $12 for members, $18 for general public. Tickets available here.

Science Doesn’t Sleep (8.21.08)

LED
What does this sound like?
Creative Commons License photo credit: yuri_koval

So here’s what went down after you logged off.

A new population of a species of rare leopards has been discovered in the forest in Borneo – providing new hope for this endangered species.

By analyzing Oetzi the Iceman’s clothing, scientists have discovered that the famous Neolithic man favored fashions made from sheep and cattle – indicating he was a herdsman. Their technique could have an impact on today’s fashion industry.

Can you hear light? New research thinks you can do anything you put your mind to.

Couldn’t afford a satellite for Christmas last year? Not to worry – they’re getting smaller - and cheaper.

Proof that you never know what you’ll find on eBay: a scientists bought a fossilized bug online and it turned out to be a previously unknown species of aphid.

10,000 BC: The Story Behind the Date

Hollywood has been known to produce a movie or two on prehistoric and historic themes. On March 7, another title will be added to that list: 10,000 BC. The trailer promises all kinds of spectacular imagery: a satellite view of planet Earth as all the city lights go out; warriors fighting amongst themselves as well as against mammoths; there is even a frightening scene in which a human and a saber tooth cat come face-to-face (literally).

I know that this is escapism at its best. I will probably go see this film too; I might even give it two opposable thumbs up. However, how about we travel back to the real 10,000 B.C. and see for ourselves what really went on at that time?

By 10,000 B.C., humans had made it to the Americas. There is plenty debate about when exactly modern humans made it to the New World. The people traditionally believed to be walking around here 12,000 years ago are called the “Clovis people”. Our current understanding of who got here first has changed, but that is a topic for a future blog.

The Clovis people were hunters and gatherers, and they left behind a good number of archaeological sites throughout North America. By this time, mammoths and mastodons are becoming extinct. Some scientists point an accusing finger at human hunters, others blame that event on a meteorite.

In the Old World, the New Stone Age, or Neolithic, had begun. With it, we see the beginnings of animal domestication. With animal and plant domestication, our ancestors began agriculture. This was a major shift away from the traditional hunting-and-gathering way of life. This change laid the foundation for sedentary lifestyles, as the practice of living in one spot is called.

Architecture starts, first, very humbly. However, these very first dwellings and food storage areas eventually culminate in the “mile-high” sky scrapers of the 21st century.

By 10,000 B.C., the earliest pottery is produced in Japan. On mainland Asia, developments are not far behind: stable agricultural communities dot the countryside in what is now China.  Further West, in what is now Israel and Lebanon, the Natufian people are experimenting with plants as well, setting the stage for agriculture in this part of the world. In Europe, people to move further north as the last Ice Age comes to an end. 

So what does 10,000 B.C. really represent? Rampaging herds of mammoths? A myriad of busy workers building pyramids? A threatening tête-à-tête between a human and a saber tooth cat?

Nope.

10,000 B.C. is a date that roughly marks the earliest known transition from a lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of agriculture and animal domestication. Villages, towns and cities soon followed. Writing eventually came about as well, as a means of keeping track of wealth. Schools were not far behind.

Now that’s progress.