Iceman Reborn

Watch as Otzi, a 5000-year-old mummy, is brought to life and preserved with 3D modeling. Airing September 12, 2018 at 10 pm on PBS Airing September 12, 2018 at 10 pm on PBS

Program Description

He was stalked, attacked and left to die alone. Murdered more than 5,000 years ago, Otzi the Iceman is Europe’s oldest known natural mummy. Miraculously preserved in glacial ice, his remarkably intact remains continue to provide scientists, historians, and archeologists with groundbreaking discoveries about a crucial time in human history. But in order to protect him from contamination, this extraordinary body has been locked away, out of reach, in a frozen crypt—until now. NOVA joins renowned artist and paleo-sculptor Gary Staab as he has been granted rare access into the Iceman’s frozen lair. Gary has been charged with creating an exact replica of the mummy, which scientists and the public alike can then study up close and in person. As we see the Iceman reborn from 3D printing, resin, clay and paint, new revelations about Otzi’s life and legacy come to light, including surprising secrets hidden in his genetic code.



Iceman Reborn

PBS Airdate: February 17, 2016

PATRICK HUNT (Stanford University): He's the oldest human specimen that we have that is so complete.

ALBERT ZINK (Institute for Mummies and the Iceman): So well-preserved.

AARON DETER-WOLF (Tennessee Division of Archaeology): He continues to generate this body of information.

PATRICK HUNT: He may well be the most studied human being in history.

NARRATOR: The Iceman,…

PATRICK HUNT: He was found in a glacier, frozen in time, for 5,000 years.

NARRATOR: …an ancient murder mystery.

GARY STAAB (Paleo-Artist): Ready to go?

What can we learn from him? What is his story?

CARLOS BUSTAMANTE (Stanford School of Medicine): We figured he was probably Italian; wrong. Eastern European? North African? Wrong, wrong, wrong. So, where's this guy from?

NARRATOR: Scientists search for answers, hidden in his genetic code,…

CARLOS BUSTAMANTE: We're rewriting the history of humankind.

NARRATOR: …as an artist brings him back to life.

GARY STAAB: If they believe that it's real, then I have done my job.

NARRATOR: Now, science and art join to share the Iceman and his secrets with the world.

GARY STAAB: We have to turn this thing from plastic to flesh.

NARRATOR: Iceman Reborn, right now, on NOVA.

In a custom-built lab, a team of doctors suits up. Strict precautions are taken,…

MARCO SAMADELLI (Institute for Mummies and the Iceman): Okay.

NARRATOR: …because this is a very unusual case. The patient has been dead for over 5,000 years. This is Ötzi, the Iceman, one of the oldest and best preserved, intact human bodies ever found.

The story of Ötzi's discovery is still one of the most astounding in human history. 1991: on a 10,000-foot glacier, near the border of Austria and Italy, two hikers come across the body of a man, face-down in the ice.

They have no idea the importance of what they've stumbled upon. Perhaps it's a mountaineer, or even a lost soldier from World War I. But as they pull the remains from the ice, capturing the recovery on video, certain clues point to a different story: a knife made of stone, a shoe made of grass, a quiver of arrows, leather leggings, a copper ax.

Carbon-dating later reveals that the body and the items found with it have been preserved in the mountain ice for over 5,000 years. Ötzi becomes not only an international sensation, but also a scientific treasure.

PATRICK HUNT: He's the oldest human specimen we have that is so complete, so well-preserved. With all the scientific disciplines that are intrigued by him, that want answers, he may well be the most studied human being in history.

NARRATOR: Now, new technology is yielding more clues, revealing surprising secrets about this mysterious, ancient man and the world he lived in.

From the strange markings that cover his body, to the D.N.A. in his bones, researchers are trying to use his genetic code to uncover his true origins, to track down his relatives—alive, even today—and help solve long-standing mysteries about how people lived at the end of the Stone Age.

CARLOS BUSTAMANTE: Ötzi provides a window into what life looked like 5,000 years ago, in Europe. So, it's kind of like finding the Ark of the Covenant, right? How important is that? Yeah. It's pretty important.

NARRATOR: The clues begin with Ötzi himself. At the time of his death, he was about 45 years old, five-foot-two-inches tall, weighing about a hundred and ten pounds. New research deciphering Ötzi's genetic code reveals he had brown eyes, dark hair, and had both Lyme disease and a predisposition to heart disease. But that's not what killed him on the mountain.

At first, it was thought that the Iceman had frozen to death in a storm and been buried in the snow, but a radiologist, reviewing his X-rays, spotted something strange that had escaped everyone else's notice: an arrowhead lodged deep in the Iceman's shoulder.

ALBERT ZINK: The arrowhead was detected in 2001. And then, the question was, "Did the arrowhead kill him or not?"

NARRATOR: C.T. or "CAT" scans of the body, revealing Ötzi's internal anatomy in amazing detail, provided more clues.

ALBERT ZINK: We could reconstruct, then, the area where the arrow entered the body and disrupted a major artery of the left arm. If you're losing so much blood, after 10 to 15 minutes, you are dead. From this, we knew that he was killed by this arrow shot.

NARRATOR: Shot and left to die on the mountain, the mystery was deepening.

Who was Ötzi? What did he do for a living? Who were his people? And why was he killed?

The answers will not be easy to find, because Ötzi's condition is so delicate. Ötzi has spent years, locked in a freezer, at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. His cell, kept at a chilly 19 degrees, is designed to protect him from potentially destructive microbes. No one enters the sterile environment except Ötzi's doctors.

ALBERT ZINK: The Iceman is kept under sterile condition in this refrigeration cell. And that's why we have to take care who's entering the cell, because we want to avoid that anybody brings in any kind of contamination.

GARY STAAB: Ready to go, yeah?

NARRATOR: Today, an exception has been made for an artist named Gary Staab. Gary has been charged with a difficult mission, to sculpt an exact replica of the Iceman, a copy that will be accessible to researchers and to the public who can't get close to the real thing.

ALBERT ZINK: We cannot allow everybody entering the cell—who has, maybe, a certain research question—to inspect the mummy. We want to make a good copy people can use to see, to get very close, to get data, which cannot be done with the original mummy. It's always really a risk.

GARY STAAB: Nail bed, pinky, nine millimeters.

NARRATOR: Gary has limited time to take in all the details of this rare and unique human body.

GARY STAAB: I am soaking in every single detail I can lay my eyes on.

NARRATOR: He must create the most accurate replica possible—Ötzi's twin.

GARY STAAB: Right index, five millimeters.

NARRATOR: He evaluates Ötzi's skin tone and texture,…

GARY STAAB: The keratin has fallen off the nailbeds.

NARRATOR: …his distorted face,…

GARY STAAB: That cartilage is so, so thin.

NARRATOR: …his ravaged hip.

EDUARD EGARTER-VIGL (South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology): Yes, you have a very big defect of soft tissues and bone tissues.

GARY STAAB: Because of the damage, this will be very difficult to replicate.

NARRATOR: In the process of getting every detail just right, Gary will have to learn all he can about the Iceman and his times: how he lived, died and became mummified.

GARY STAAB: What is his story? What can we learn from him? And how can he enrich our understanding of the past?


GARY STAAB: Very good.

NARRATOR: Doctor Eduard Egarter-Vigl calls an end to Gary's visit. Any more thawing, and the Iceman could be in danger of bacterial contamination.

GARY STAAB: Absolutely amazing. That was the fastest 30 minutes of my life. This very intimate moment with the mummy will be very helpful in the final product. It will be so much better because of that.

NARRATOR: With Ötzi safe in his sterile crypt, Gary will begin to bring his body double to life.

To start, the C.T. scans that helped determine Ötzi's cause of death will provide a detailed blueprint for the Iceman's twin. Thanks to a remarkable technology—3D printing—Ötzi will, literally, be printed out, in 3 dimensions.

HERLIEN DECLERCK (Materialise): We use our software to transform the C.T. images into a 3D model that you can print.

NARRATOR: Special software converts the data into a stack of over 2,000 horizontal slices, creating a blueprint of Ötzi's body. This is then fed into a computer, which controls a gigantic five-foot-by-eighteen-foot machine, known as the "Mammoth."

GARY STAAB: They have the ability to create the entire print in one piece, which is very rare.

NARRATOR: In this enormous vat, 350 gallons of liquid resin, the consistency of warm honey, will be transformed into a life-sized plastic model of the Iceman.

The computer guides lasers around a thin layer of liquid resin.

HERLIEN DECLERCK: We use a laser to trace out cross-sections of Ötzi, and, under U.V. lights, the polymer starts to harden. Once it solidifies, just a few seconds, a very thin layer is positioned on top of it, and the laser hardens it out again. And in this way, the model is built layer by layer.

NARRATOR: For nearly three days, the lasers continue their work, little by little, until every small bump and hollow on the surface of the Iceman's body is present and accounted for.

GARY STAAB: This is very exciting. We're using the newest technologies to three-dimensionally print the oldest "wet mummy" ever found.

NARRATOR: Finally, it's time to reveal the 3D print,…

GARY STAAB: Oh, my gosh, this is fantastic.

NARRATOR: …transformed from liquid to solid.

GARY STAAB: The face details are beautiful. That is absolutely fantastic.

NARRATOR: Ötzi's body has been reconstructed as one, extremely detailed, hollow piece of plastic.

GARY STAAB: Beautifully translucent, but it still captures all the forms and the shapes.

NARRATOR: As the model emerges, the Iceman is reborn.

GARY STAAB: Ötzi coming out of this resin was kind of overwhelming, because, slowly, his face was revealed, his feet were revealed, his ribcage. And it was super exciting to know that that three-dimensional print was at such a high resolution, I really have something to work with.

NARRATOR: It is on this plastic Ötzi that Gary will sculpt the life-like version.

GARY STAAB: It's a treat to see it in one color, because there's nothing distracting your eye. I'm also looking at anatomical features that correspond to the structures that I saw in the freezer.

NARRATOR: While Gary reviews Ötzi's plastic form, scientists continue to hunt down clues about the flesh-and-blood man.

For Albert Zink, who oversees research on the mummy, Ötzi's C.T. scans are especially valuable, because a look at Ötzi's muscles and joints can tell us a lot about his life and lifestyle, perhaps even how he made a living.

The two main ways of life, 5,300 years ago, were farming and hunting and gathering.

ALBERT ZINK: You can reconstruct the muscles, the muscle structure, how the muscles are attached at the bones. We just could extract all this from the C.T. scans.

NARRATOR: Zink notices Ötzi did not show signs of strain in his upper body muscles and joints. That might rule out farming.

ALBERT ZINK: In his upper part, in his shoulders, in the arms and hands, there is almost nothing. And for a man which was about 40 to 50 years old, in this time period, we would expect some changes if he had worked with his hands.

NARRATOR: The scans do indicate severe damage in the muscles and joints of his legs and back, which suggest he was a constant traveler. Also, the mummy's knee and hip joints are missing a lot of their cartilage, a painful condition called arthrosis, a kind of arthritis caused by wear and tear.

ALBERT ZINK: The physical facts of the Iceman were that he had lower back problems. The same is true for the knee. We know he had some arthrosis of the knee joints, and this caused pain, from time to time.

NARRATOR: Ötzi died in the mountains, and he likely spent much of his life there, too.

ALBERT ZINK: We just know from his physical appearance that he was walking a lot, that he maybe was carrying some heavy things. So, maybe he was trading something. It could be that he was really traveling a lot, but we cannot really say what was his role in this society.

NARRATOR: Searching for even more evidence about this enigmatic man, scientists perform a kind of an autopsy on Ötzi. They remove specimens from inside his most culturally sensitive organ,…

DOCTOR: This is stomach here.

NARRATOR: …his stomach. And they are able to extract Ötzi's last meal, eaten only hours before his death. Some of the contents point to Ötzi being a hunter.

DOCTOR: So much material from the stomach, now.

CARLOS BUSTAMANTE: He had wild ibex meat in his stomach, so he was clearly hunting for part of his sustenance. He also had einkorn wheat. Einkorn wheat has to come from farming.

It's this classical kind of interesting mystery. Ötzi's sending us mixed messages about how he's living his life.

NARRATOR: In addition to food, researchers also found different kinds of pollen in the Iceman's stomach. This revealed that Ötzi had been traveling up and down the mountain within the last 48 hours of his life. Ötzi seems to have been a man on the move, whose adventures came to a violent end.

More than 5,000 years later, Ötzi's twin is on a journey of its own, across the Atlantic Ocean, all the way to Kearney, Missouri, in the American heartland.

Here, Gary Staab brings ancient fossils back to life. He is a master model-maker, and over the years, he has been commissioned to build replicas of dozens of extinct creatures for museums around the world.

He has fashioned prehistoric fish, sculpted life-sized dinosaurs and crafted giant crocodiles.

GARY STAAB: I've spent entirely way too much time on the inside of large animals.

NARRATOR: From the miniature to monstrous, whether it swims, crawls or flies, Gary's job is to resurrect the long-dead.

GARY STAAB: So, the really fascinating fact is, is that 99 percent of all life that has ever existed on Earth is extinct. So, I follow floods. I follow volcanic eruptions, mass-death events. I'm a bit of an ambulance chaser, but I'm just a little bit late, maybe a few thousand years late, in some cases, 50- or 60-million years late.

NARRATOR: Gary's investigations, all to better understand his subjects and the worlds they lived in, have taken him around the globe, from exotic excavation sites to ancient fossil fields.

GARY STAAB: Most of the time, my job is to sculpt animals for museums. And we only have their bones. We only have fossils. I have to take something that no one is exactly sure what it looked like, and try and breathe life into it.

This is a neat situation, in that we know exactly what Iceman looks like. So, my job is to replicate him, exactly as he looks right now.

What's in here?

NARRATOR: Now, Gary faces one of the biggest challenges of his career, creating the exact replica of Ötzi, the Iceman.

GARY STAAB: All right. It's like Neolithic Christmas.

NARRATOR: The plastic model, generated by the 3D printer, has just arrived in his studio.

GARY STAAB: It was an amazing feeling to finally lift him out of the crate and take him on to the table. By the time we're finished, we will work thousands of hours.

NARRATOR: 3D printing technology has provided the artist with a good head start, a model with physical dimensions exact to the millimeter. It's a perfect match to the shape of the Iceman, but the surface of the model is not detailed enough to create a believable replica.

GARY STAAB: We've got a lot of work ahead of us.

NARRATOR: Gary and his team will need to sculpt Ötzi the old-fashioned way, all by hand.

GARY STAAB: There is not one centimeter of this thing that isn't complicated. It's going to be very hard.

NARRATOR: It will be a four-part process: sculpting, molding, painting and crafting minute surface details will take Gary and his team months to complete.

GARY STAAB: The challenges are many. We have, not only the elements of the skin texture, we have the detail of the face. We have the detail of the hands. And we have to figure out how to replicate the hips. The hip is going to be very challenging to do.

You guys just start on this end, and work your way up, and I'll start on the head, and then I'll meet you somewhere in the middle, I hope.

MEG: Sure.

JEFF: Sounds good.

NARRATOR: The first step: darken the mummy's body to better reveal the exact contours of the 3D print.

GARY STAAB: We can't actually read the surface when it's translucent, so we take a, a very dark and penetrating stain, and we paint it over the top of the three dimensional print.

It allows us to see the surface in a much better way. So, we can read those shapes, and then, actually, make judgments on how we're going to sculpt the surface, based on what we see.

There are thousands of considerations, not hundreds, thousands of considerations that have to be taken into account for, while you are doing this.

NARRATOR: Next, Gary replicates Ötzi's skin with especially malleable modeling clay. As the thin clay bonds to the resin, Gary and his team sculpt every detail of the mummy's surface texture, inch by inch. Getting Ötzi's skin just right, is one of the main challenges for Gary and his crew.

GARY STAAB: We have to turn this thing from plastic to flesh.

NARRATOR: Human skin is actually an organ, the largest we have. On average, it takes about 20-square-feet of skin to cover a human body. It will take hundreds of hours to replicate Ötzi's complex mummified surface.

GARY STAAB: Pick out some of these that might work well, and then run some samples.

NARRATOR: Gary relies on texture pads to press patterns into Ötzi's clay skin.

GARY STAAB: I have hundreds of textures in a box. I pulled them out to see which ones might match.

NARRATOR: These flexible rubber patches create varied imprints on the wet clay.

Human skin has three layers. The epidermis, or outer layer, acts as a waterproof wrapping and a guard against infection. It also determines our skin color. The next layer, the dermis, is made up of tough connective tissue, along with nerve endings, hair follicles and sweat glands. Finally, the deep hypodermis consists of subcutaneous fat and more connective tissue.

Gary and his team are sculpting the second layer of Ötzi's skin, the dermis. Most of the outer layer was lost to the mountain.

EDUARD EGARTER-VIGL: If you look at the skin of this mummy, you have to realize that this body has been lying in ice for years. The ice isn't always stable, so in summer, the ice melts into water. If it's in water for too long, the upper layer of the skin, the epidermis, separates, and you lose it.

The layers underneath, the dermis and the subcutaneous layer, remain preserved. A lot of hair, the fingernails, the toenails, have been lost.

NARRATOR: Enough of the Iceman's skin, along with soft tissue and muscle have been preserved, to make Ötzi a true mummy.

For Gary, Ötzi is not the first mummy he has replicated but certainly one of the most unique.

Mummies can be created naturally or artificially. Artificial mummies, like those from ancient Egypt, were made by intentionally blocking the decaying process.

ALBERT ZINK: The important thing during mummification is that it happens immediately, so that natural processes is the degradation or the decomposition of a body. So, it has to be stopped immediately. 

NARRATOR: This was the case for one of the most famous mummies of all, the Egyptian pharaoh, King Tutankhamun. He was embalmed and then coated in a black, resin-like liquid that encased and preserved his skin.

But in natural mummies, like Ötzi or those discovered on mountaintops in the Andes, or bog bodies found buried in peat, the environment alone preserves the body.

ALBERT ZINK: The Iceman is a natural mummy. He was naturally captured in the ice. And he's also a humid mummy, so he still contains some water in his tissue that makes him, also, so difficult to preserve.

NARRATOR: It is luck that Ötzi was preserved at all. He was nearly lost forever. Fortunately, his body lay in a small trench, protected by large rocks on two sides.

This trench eventually filled in with 10 feet of snow and ice, preventing the Iceman from being swept into the deadly frozen current that flowed around it.

ALBERT ZINK: This makes him, also, quite unique. He's one of a few ice mummies that exist at all, and he's the only natural ice mummy we have in the Alpine region.

NARRATOR: The ice preserved Ötzi, but the great weight of the glacier eventually flattened his body, creating the ultra-lean frame that Gary is now duplicating.

After weeks of work, the replica is covered in a layer of white clay that matches the texture of Ötzi's body. But in order for Gary to finish the face, he must remove Ötzi's head.

GARY STAAB: It's much easier to sculpt him away from the body. So, you have to bring it where you can focus, get exactly in a zone where, physically, you can work on it for that length of time and not get ultra-fatigued.

NARRATOR: Ötzi's face presents a particular challenge.

GARY STAAB: This will be the thing that everyone looks at. They'll engage it in the face, in the eyes, and that's where they will spend most of their time. This is where he will become a person to them.

He has a really wild looking face. It's a, a bit grotesque, in some ways. His lip is actually pushed up here, because he was lying face down on a rock, and that pressure on his face and over his nose.

The nose is so difficult to tease out the details of what's actually happening there. You know, what am I actually seeing? What's doing what? So that it can be correct.

It's entirely possible that I will know his face better than his mother did.

NARRATOR: After months of sculpting, molding and crafting the exact details of the Iceman, Gary has reached the most visible stage in his process:…

GARY STAAB: I'm at a very exciting point.

NARRATOR: …the paint.

GARY STAAB: Finally, I can actually put color on.

Painting is a very fun part of this, this process. And it's very fun to see, see this come to life, through color.

NARRATOR: From the rims of his eyes to the tips of his toes, Gary must match every inch of Ötzi's skin to the original, including the mummy's mysterious markings: many sets of parallel lines and two crosses. These are Ötzi's tattoos. The Iceman is the oldest tattooed mummy ever discovered.

GARY STAAB: It's complicated because there's so many.

MARCO SAMADELLI: Yes, he's covered with a lot of tattoos.

NARRATOR: Researcher Marco Samadelli has been one of Ötzi's caretakers for nearly 20 years.

GARY STAAB: How did you catalogue each one of these?

NARRATOR: Recently, Marco set out to inventory every tattoo on Ötzi's skin.

MARCO SAMADELLI: We discovered exactly 61 tattoos.

GARY STAAB: That's a lot of ink.

MARCO SAMADELLI: It's difficult to see the tattoos on a 5,000-year-old mummy.

NARRATOR: Marco's research revealed something no one had ever seen before, thanks to a unique camera, sensitive to invisible light.

MARCO SAMADELLI: Multispectral imaging is a technique used to see what the eye can't see. It's with this we discovered every single detail, even under the surface of the mummy's skin.

NARRATOR: The exact number and location of all the tattoos was a mystery, until now.

MARCO SAMADELLI: We discovered a tattoo that had never been seen before. Four parallel lines on the right side of his chest.

We were able to see all his tattoos and obtain a complete mapping.

AARON DETER-WOLF: Sixty-one tattoos, arranged in 19 groups across his body.

NARRATOR: Archeologist Aaron Deter-Wolf studies the use of tattoos in ancient cultures.

AARON DETER-WOLF: Tattooing has been practiced throughout a huge portion of human history, going back at least 16,- or 18,000 years before present. During that time period, people have been tattooed for all sorts of different reasons, depending on their culture and the region in which they lived.

NARRATOR: Aaron has come to Gary's studio…

GARY STAAB: Hey Aaron, I'm Gary.

NARRATOR: …to demonstrate how and why, he believes, Ötzi's tattoos may have been made.

AARON DETER-WOLF: We're going to take a piece of pigskin, which is a proxy for human skin, and we're going to use these reproduction tools to tattoo that skin in the same patterns that are on Ötzi's body.

NARRATOR: Aaron thinks Ötzi's tattoos were most likely created with a technique that was widespread in the ancient world: by using a sharp needle, probably made from bone, to puncture the skin and push ink, made from charcoal, into the tiny shallow wounds.

AARON DETER-WOLF: What you want to do is just dip the tip of the tool.


AARON DETER-WOLF: And then, you are just going to go in very, very shallowly.

NARRATOR: Microscopic and chemical analysis reveal that the dark lines are made primarily of carbon, along with bits of silica.

AARON DETER-WOLF: A composition most likely collected around the edge of a campfire.

GARY STAAB: So, what kind of depth?

ARON DETER-WOLF: Less than a millimeter.

GARY STAAB: Less than a millimeter.

AARON DETER-WOLF: You can feel the needle give.

GARY STAAB: Just a little tiny pop.

AARON DETER-WOLF: That's moving through that epidermis, yep.

GARY STAAB: I thought it would be a little bit easier, but it, it takes hundreds and hundreds of punctures to actually get a solid line.

I am using the exact same stabbing technique, used with a brush, on the model.

Looking at how difficult it was to create those tattoos on the pigskin, imagine the pain that Ötzi had to go through when he had his tattoos made. 

I wouldn't get a tattoo that way.

NARRATOR: So, why would Ötzi endure this painful process, not just once, but dozens of times?

AARON DETER-WOLF: We generally agree that Ötzi's tattoos don't seem, on the whole, to be decorative or symbolic.

NARRATOR: For Aaron and other experts, a key clue to understanding the purpose of the tattoos could be where they've been placed.

AARON DETER-WOLF: A number of Ötzi's tattoos seemed to correspond to areas where he suffered from ailments or injuries. He had arthritis in his lower back, and there are tattoos on his lower lumbar area. He had arthritis in his right knee; there are tattoos on the back of his right knee. He had arthritis in his ankles; there are a number of tattoos around both his right and left ankles.

Most recently, this new set of tattoos, it's located on his lower right abdomen. Among the many ailments that he suffered from was gallstones and whipworms in his colon. And this is a place that is very close to those areas and could, potentially, have been used to treat the pains he was experiencing.

NARRATOR: Tattooing the skin to alleviate pain has been the practice of many cultures.

AARON DETER-WOLF: There are therapeutic tattoo traditions that have been documented all across the world: in India, in Southeast Asia, in North America, in the American Arctic.

NARRATOR: Ötzi's tattoos are the earliest direct evidence of this ancient tradition, but the tattoos may not have been the only medicinal treatment Ötzi relied on.

In the woods of upstate New York, archeologist Patrick Hunt is tracking down wild mushrooms, with the help of David Work, an expert in fungi. They're hunting for two varieties, the same ones Ötzi carried with him 5,300 years ago.

PATRICK HUNT: This is very much like the forests that Ötzi would've known in the Tyrol, where you've got mixed deciduous forests.

DAVID WORK: Wow, that's a beautiful example. I can probably roll this over. Maybe not.

PATRICK HUNT: If you're carrying two different mushrooms, you must have a pretty good idea they address different functions.

NARRATOR: One mushroom, known as "tinder fungus," is often used to start fires. When dried, it ignites easily and burns for a long time.

The other kind of fungus, which Ötzi carried on leather straps, is called "birch polypore."

DAVID WORK: I am going to harvest this one.

NARRATOR: Most believe Ötzi was carrying this particular mushroom for another reason:…

DAVID WORK: This white section here.

NARRATOR: …its antiseptic powers.

PATRICK HUNT: You can also take this mushroom, peel off the spore layers, and you can put that directly on a wound. It's antibacterial, it's antiviral.

DAVID WORK: Here, I have a cut there. We'll put that there.

PATRICK HUNT: And you can actually tie it around with a piece of grass. BAND-AID®. You don't need bacterial agents, 'cause it's got it in the mushroom.

DAVID WORK: It's already there; pretty cool.

NARRATOR: In addition to the topical treatment, Ötzi may have ingested the fungi as a kind of stone-age painkiller.

PATRICK HUNT: The peculiar thing is, it has the exact properties that act as remedies to what Ötzi had wrong with him.

It's been used in modern periods for some of these same functions, but Ötzi's the oldest case on the record for anybody knowing this. We thought that this was a relatively modern discovery. Obviously, it's been around for a long time.

NARRATOR: As Ötzi continues to challenge scientists and historians to revise their picture of the past, Gary Staab is facing his own challenge in the reconstruction of the mummy's body. Gary knew it would be a problem, ever since his day in the freezer: the Iceman's damaged hip, perhaps mauled by an animal scavenger after Ötzi's death.

EDUARD EGARTER-VIGL: It is clear that the animals go to this part of the body,…

GARY STAAB: Scavenging…

EDUARD EGARTER-VIGL: …because it is a big attraction for the animals.

GARY STAAB: The hip is very, very complicated. In fact, it's almost as complicated as making the entire mummy on its own,…

NARRATOR: While Gary's studio team makes hundreds of simulated tendons from natural fibers that are frayed and dipped in paraffin, Gary builds Ötzi's ravaged backside.

GARY STAAB: …because included in the complexity of this, there's dried muscle, overlaid by tendons; then you have frayed tendons, up against bone; the bone itself; the cancellous bone, or the bone marrow, inside of the bone that's fractured and torn apart; then you have the soft tissues that overlay the bone on this side; you've got lower bowel intestine that's exposed and broken, with bowel stomach contents inside of it; then you have fat deposition in here, so, just this section, alone, has that many different finishes that have to be replicated. So, this is by far the most complicated project I've ever worked on.

NARRATOR: It will take weeks to sculpt the Iceman's injured hip.

Meanwhile, scientists continue to search for Ötzi's true identity, investigating perhaps the most revealing evidence available, the Iceman's genetic code.

CARLOS BUSTAMANTE: Genetics is giving us insights that we cannot get through any other means.

NARRATOR: The genetic blueprint of every living thing is written in D.N.A. It's made of four chemicals, abbreviated as A, C, G and T. These four letters, in a twisting double helix, are arranged into 23 pairs of chromosomes within each cell. This is our biological code, containing all the information to build and run our bodies.

Ötzi was one of the first ancient Europeans to have his entire code, or genome, analyzed. It provided detailed clues to his appearance and health.

ALEXANDRA ADAMS SOCKELL (Stanford School of Medicine): If you look at a particular gene on chromosome 15, it's the gene that most likely determines eye color. If you see a pair of Gs at this position, that, likely, means that the person has blue eyes. Whereas, in the case of Ötzi, we see an A from both parents, and, so, that likely means that he had dark-colored eyes.

NARRATOR: On another chromosome, number 12, two Ts indicate that his hair was also dark.

Other chromosomes reveal new details: Ötzi had blood type O. He even had a predisposition for arteriosclerosis—heart disease, often assumed to be associated with our modern lifestyle. The team also found D.N.A. fragments from the microbe that causes Lyme disease, making Ötzi the earliest known case.

But what about his origins? Who were Ötzi's ancestors?

CARLOS BUSTAMANTE: The very cool thing about D.N.A. is that changes in D.N.A. literally make us who we are. The material that we inherit from our mom and our dad links us to all of our ancestors, and by comparing D.N.A. across individuals in populations, we can get a very rich picture of our ancestry. Who are we related to? Where did they come from?

NARRATOR: Finding answers is especially important, because Ötzi dates to around the time when prehistoric Europe was undergoing major changes, as the ancient hunter-gatherer lifestyle was gradually displaced by farming.

CARLOS BUSTAMANTE: Ötzi comes from an incredibly important period in European history, where we go from hunter-gatherers living in Europe, to the widespread adoption of farming.

PATRICK HUNT: Because it's a transitional time period in which Ötzi lives, there are huge life ways that converge, whether people are hunter-gatherers or whether they're early famers. He's in transition. His culture's in transition.

NARRATOR: Forty-five-thousand years ago, modern humans first began arriving in Europe. They were hunter-gatherers, foraging plants and hunting wild game. Then, about 7,000 years ago, everything began to change. People in Europe began to cultivate crops for food, and, by about 5,000 years ago, the hunter-gatherer culture had almost completely disappeared from the continent.

It is one of the most revolutionary transformations in human history. Where does Ötzi fit in to this changing landscape? Did he come from a group of ancient hunter-gatherers who still lived in pockets throughout Europe? Or were his people farmers, living a more settled life in the foothills of the Alps?

Scientists turn to Ötzi's pre-historic artifacts for more insight.

PATRICK HUNT: When you excavate or find someone who died 5,000 years ago, usually all you have left are the bones.

What is so fantastic about Ötzi is that, because he was found in a glacier, because he was frozen in time for 5,000-plus years, everything survives. His clothes, his tools.

NARRATOR: Among the items recovered from the glacier were a fur hat; patchwork leggings, made of leather; deerskin shoes, stuffed with hay; a six-foot-long bow; a quiver that held over a dozen arrows.

PATRICK HUNT: If you want an arrow shaft, you want the woods that he chose, cornel and viburnum: they grow very straight, they're easily harvested, they're fairly prolific.

NARRATOR: His expertly made weapons seem well-suited for a man who hunted for his meals, but other objects paint a different picture. Ötzi's finely-crafted copper ax, one of the oldest metal tools ever found in Europe, points to a more advanced society, one based on farming.

Could the Iceman's D.N.A. help solve the mystery and determine whether Ötzi's people were hunter-gatherers or farmers?

To find out, researchers focus on mutations in the D.N.A., random mistakes that can occur when the billions of chemicals that make up our genetic code, all those As, Ts, Gs and Cs, get copied.

CARLOS BUSTAMANTE: The human genome is three-billion base pairs long. Every once in a while, you get a mutation, and that mutation sometimes ends up spreading.

NARRATOR: These mutations help create specific patterns of genetic variation in our D.N.A., inherited from our parents. The closer two people are related, the more of these patterns they'll have in common.

So whose D.N.A. does Ötzi match best? The hunter-gatherers or the farmers?

CARLOS BUSTAMANTE: The only way to get at that was to have other ancient samples from known farmers and known hunter-gatherers from across Europe, across different points in time.

NARRATOR: They found the sample D.N.A. in the bones of dozens of ancient people, excavated from archaeological sites all over Europe. Some samples go back 45,000 years, when hunting was the only way of life. Other samples were from 7,000-year-old farming sites.

And the result? Ötzi's D.N.A. is a close match to that of ancient farmers, not hunter-gatherers.

CARLOS BUSTAMANTE: It became pretty clear that all of the individuals that we had labeled, archeologically, as farmers were closest to Ötzi.

NARRATOR: Ötzi's D.N.A. reveals that he was descended from farmers who were in Europe nearly 2,000 years before he was born. What's more, the same D.N.A. patterns show up in even older bones found in some of the earliest known farming sites in the world, in what is, today, Turkey.

This suggests that farmers migrated to Europe from Turkey, filling much of the continent. Eventually, they pushed aside most of the hunter-gatherers and their D.N.A.

So where is Ötzi's D.N.A. now? Could he have distant relatives alive even today? Comparing his genome to modern D.N.A. samples, from all over Europe, would provide the answer.

CARLOS BUSTAMANTE: Who Ötzi really was, genetically, surprised us. When we started analyzing the ancestry of Ötzi, we figured he was probably Italian. Wrong, didn't cluster with the Italians. Maybe he's Austrian? Wrong, he didn't cluster with the Austrians. Eastern European? Wrong. North African? Wrong, wrong, wrong.

So where's this guy from? And it turned out, much to our surprise, that his closest living relatives were on the island of Sardinia, totally unexpected.

NARRATOR: Does this mean that Ötzi was Sardinian? Not necessarily. Most likely, 5,300 years ago, when the Iceman was born, most people in Europe, including Sardinians, carried similar patterns in their D.N.A., from the early farmer immigrants.

But over the last 5,000 years, Europe has seen wave after wave of immigrants, adding new patterns of D.N.A. to the mix, except on the isolated island of Sardinia. There, ever since the early farmers arrived, the inhabitants—and their D.N.A. pattern—have stayed relatively stable.

CARLOS BUSTAMANTE: This wave of farmers that swept through Europe made it to Sardinia and stayed there, as a genetic snapshot of what that wave of immigration looked like.

NARRATOR: This makes today's Sardinians Ötzi's closest living relatives.

Over the past five months, here at Gary's studio in Missouri, the Iceman has undergone a complicated transformation.

GARY STAAB: If they look at this and they believe that it's real, then I've done my job. And we want only Ötzi to be the final product. It's just about Ötzi.

NARRATOR: Before the model is finished, it's accuracy will be put to the ultimate test,…

GARY STAAB: So good to see you.

NARRATOR: …when Albert Zink, who oversees the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman, in Italy, comes to examine Gary's work.

GARY STAAB: I am, absolutely petrified that he's here to see this, because he is the person who is the most familiar with the mummy. My goal is to have him, for one second, be fooled that maybe he's actually looking at Ötzi.

ALBERT ZINK: I have tell you something, it's really good. It's a really good work. I am really very impressed. It is really amazing.

GARY STAAB: That's good.

ALBERT ZINK: Wow, wow! Some moments I felt that the mummy's outside of his freezer, it's too dangerous, but then I realized it's the replica.

You managed to give him this kind of expression that you still can feel, somewhat, that this was a human being, somebody who lived very long ago. It's really a masterpiece.

This is great for scholars, because with this replica, you can really explore in much more detail. In combination with all the other data we have, I think this will bring us all a step forward in our research.

NARRATOR: With Albert Zink's approval, the time has come for Gary to share the replica with the world.

GARY STAAB: All right.

NARRATOR: He's brought Ötzi to New York's Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, one of the world's foremost genetic research institutes. For Gary, it's like dropping a child off at the first day of school.

GARY STAAB: I'm a little bit nervous. It's been a really long road, and it's a lot of work culminating with this day.

NARRATOR: For many years, the director of Cold Spring Harbor was James Watson, co-discoverer of D.N.A.'s double helix.

JAMES WATSON (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory): It's remarkable.

It was very exciting to get D.N.A. from 5,000 years ago.

NARRATOR: Ötzi could never have known that how he lived and died would intrigue and inspire future generations,…

KID: It looks like he is looking at you.

NARRATOR: …like these students, some of whom have been studying him for years.

GAVIN MURDOCK: Ötzi is a great example of how D.N.A. can help us learn about the past.

SOFIA RUSSO: He's awesome. Coolest dead guy in the world.

CARLOS BUSTAMANTE: What's incredible about the Ötzi story is that, as technology's gotten better and better, it's the gift that keeps on giving. We can keep going back to the sample, and it yields new mysteries and new insights into both human history and into Ötzi himself.

NARRATOR: Ötzi was a man on the move, until an arrow ended his journey through life.

But his death on the mountain would ultimately take him much farther than he could ever have imagined and make him one of the most famous and fascinating humans who ever walked the earth.

Broadcast Credits

David Murdock & Bonnie Brennan
Bonnie Brennan
Paul Marengo
Vincent Liota
Douglas Raines
Rene Heijnen
David Murdock
Chris Higgins
Robert Visty, Jr.
Gary Staab
David Murdock
Robert Visty
Chris Higgins
Wes Dorman
Adam Shanker
Edward Marritz
Nathan Towns
Ivar Trentleman
Barry Weisblat
David Wendlinger
Ken Paulakovich
Mark Mandler
Jim Fetela
Gabriel Almanza
Adarsh Kaushal
Sam Barton Humphreys
Kevin Dorman
Paul Turlick
Tim Willlis
Jay O. Sanders
Legativity Music
2K-12 Studios
David Bigelow
Heart Punch Studios
Will Toubman
Danya Gordin
Brandon Kurtz
David Anthony
Aaron Deter-Wolf
Getty Images
Higgins Entertainment Group
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Lars Krutak
National Geographic Creative
Nordiska Museet
Johan Reinhard
Regional Hospital of Bolzano
Science Source
South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology
Staab Studios
Anjelika Fleckinger
Melitta Franceschini
Katharina Hershel
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Dolan DNA Learning Center
Elna Carrasco
EURAC, Institute for Mummies and the Iceman
Stanford School of Medicine
Sven Rosborn
Carsten Frenzl
Tucker Adams
Kelly Coskran
Nicholas Tonelli
Jeanne Boleyn
Arxiu Comarcal de l’Alt Emporda
Gunnar Greutz
Hélène Coldefy
yU + co.
Walter Werzowa
John Luker
Musikvergnuegen, Inc.
Ray Loring
Rob Morsberger
The Caption Center
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Eileen Campion
Eddie Ward
Diane Toomey
Caitlin Rotman Saks
Anne Barleon
Linda Callahan
Sarah Erlandson
Janice Flood
Susan Rosen
Kristine Allington
Tim De Chant
Lauren Aguirre
Lauren Miller
Ariam McCrary
Ezra Wolfinger
Brittany Flynn
Kevin Young
Michael H. Amundson
Nathan Gunner
Elizabeth Benjes
David Condon
Pamela Rosenstein
Laurie Cahalane
Evan Hadingham
Chris Schmidt
Melanie Wallace
Julia Cort
Alan Ritsko
Paula S. Apsell

A NOVA Production by Bsquared Media for WGBH Boston in association with ARTE France

© 2016 WGBH Educational Foundation

All rights reserved

This program was produced by WGBH, which is solely responsible for its content.

Original funding for this program was provided by Google, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, the David H. Koch Fund for Science and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


Image Credit: (Iceman replica)
© South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology


Alexandra Adams Sockell
Stanford School of Medicine
Carlos Bustamante
Stanford School of Medicine
Herlien Declerck
Aaron Deter-Wolf
Tennessee Division of Archaeology
Eduard Egarter Vigl
South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology
Patrick Hunt
Stanford University
Marco Samadelli
Institute for Mummies and the Iceman
Gary Staab
James Watson
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Albert Zink
Institute for Mummies and the Iceman

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