5,300-Year-Old Bacteria Found In Oetzi The Iceman Suggests Traditional ‘Out Of Africa’ Theories May Be Wrong

Bacteria found in a 5,300-year-old mummy called Oetzi, or Ӧtzi, the iceman may prove that ancient Europeans had a more complex series of migrations than previously believed. The “Out of Africa” theory suggests that the main migration from Africa occurred around 65,000 years ago. However, bacteria found in Oetzi the iceman reveals that the migration may be much more complex than previously believed and that the first migration may have taken place 80,000 to 120,000 years ago.

The Daily Mail reports that scientists studying the 5,300-year-old mummy Oetzi the iceman have come across some curious findings that suggest migration from Africa was much more complex than scientists previously believed. The iceman’s remains were found in the icy Austrian landscape and contained a bacteria that is found in modern day humans. However, it is the type of bacteria that has caused scientists to reevaluate the currently held “Out of Africa” theory as the new findings suggest that multiple waves of migrations occurred from Africa and resulted in modern day Europeans.

The current “Out of Africa” theory maintains that a mass migration from Africa occurred approximately 65,000 years ago into Europe. However, recent studies have suggested that this theory may need revision as more information suggests that homo sapiens first entered the Arabian Peninsula before continuing east to South Asia long before the 65,000 year mark.

The latest findings in Oetzi the iceman also suggest that homo sapiens left Africa long before 65,000 years ago and entered Asia some 80,000 to 120,000 years ago. While studying Oetzi, scientists analyzed the iceman’s DNA and found he was infected with a common bacterium, Helicobacter pylori. This bacteria infects approximately half of the current population. Scientists believe that there were originally two distinct strains of H.pylori — an African and an Asian strain — which merged to form the modern strain which infects people in Europe today. However, when analyzing Oetzi, scientists discovered that the iceman was infected not with the strain held by modern Europeans today, but rather a strain more closely resembling modern Central and South Asian strains.

Therefore, scientists say this could be a marker that migration movements were more complex than previously thought. In the traditional “Out of Africa” theory, it was assumed that Stone Age people were infected with the European strain before settling in the region. However, with the iceman carrying a different strain, it would suggest that at least some of the Copper Age and Stone Age people may not have come into contact with the bacteria prior to settling in the region. This means that migratory paths could be very complex with more than one mass migration out of Africa.

Dr. Frank Maixner, a microbiologist at EURA, says that the findings are interesting in that they point to a second population moving to Europe out of Africa.

‘The recombination of the two types of Helicobacter may have only occurred at some point after Ötzi’s era and this shows that the history of settlements in Europe is much more complex than previously assumed. We actually don’t know what kind of people brought this African H.pylori into Europe. What we do know is that the signal for this second population, which has come into Europe is strongest in North East Africa.”

The unusual bacteria find isn’t the only thing that has kept scientists thinking regarding the well-preserved iceman’s body. Scientists have long speculated on the cause of death for poor Oetzi with no complete conclusion ever truly agreed upon. From hypothesis of hypothermia, to death in battle, no one can agree on exactly what caused the iceman’s death. However, one group of archaeologists believes that the evidence suggests he may have died in battle due to the fact that blood from four other individuals was found on weapons located near the iceman’s body.

What do you think about the most recent findings? Do you think the “Out of Africa” theory will be revised due to the nature of the findings?

[Image via AP]