Ötzi, also known as the Iceman, is one of the most interesting Copper Age findings in Europe. Now a natural mummy, the man lived between 3400 and 3100 BCE and died in the Alps after being shot with an arrow and brutally attacked. Recent analysis reveals that if he hadn’t been murdered, he would have been at an increased risk of having a heart attack.
Researchers from the Central Hospital Bolzano-Bozen performed a CT scan of the Iceman's heart and discovered three areas of calcification in his coronary vessels as well as signs of calcification around the carotid artery and in the arteries at the base of the skull.
“If calcium is detected, this means that arteriosclerotic plaques are present. If one were to apply the calcifications to the heart of a living person, then the values found in Ötzi would correspond to those of an approximately 45-year-old man with light skin,” Patrizia Pernter, a radiologist at the Central Hospital, said in a statement.
Ötzi’s age has previously been estimated to be around 46 years old, so a consistency between the calcifications analysis (which is affected by parameters like gender, ethnicity, and age) and other studies tells us a lot. Ötzi had a more active lifestyle than modern people, so the researchers suggest that the development of arteriosclerotic plaques had an important genetic component for the Iceman. Analysis of the mummy's genome in 2012 had previously suggested that Ötzi had a predisposition to cardiovascular disease.
“The presence or absence of calcium deposits can be of value when calculating the cardiovascular risks for a patient; that is to say, in addition to other risk factors (blood lipids, smoking, raised blood pressure, diabetes etc.) the presence of coronary calcifications can be a further indication of increased risk of having coronary heart disease or of developing it in the future,” Pernter explained while discussing what the calcification might have meant for the poor man’s future.
Ötzi is the oldest natural mummy ever found in Europe, and this analysis highlights one of the oldest observed cases of vascular calcification. Researchers think that the Iceman is an important example of the role that genetic predisposition plays in arteriosclerosis and coronary heart disease.