Topic 1: Learning from our ancestors

You have a modern lens through which the world is viewed. This can influence how you look at and interpret data, particularly in archaeology where researchers are often trying to piece together what an ancient person’s life might have been like. Scientists from Europe during the Victorian era might interpret artifacts found during an excavation in a different light than modern European scientists even though both are trying hard to be objective and learn more about the ancient world. This has a lot to do with advances in technology, but it is also due to differences in culture and worldview. Scientists raised in different cultures might also see the same artifacts in a different light.

Scientists throughout time have asked questions such as “Where did we come from?” and “How did my ancestors live?” These are difficult questions to answer, particularly for anything that happened before there was a written record. Even when ancient cultures had writing it is hard to know if everything written down is accurate or that the modern interpretation of what was written is correct. The farther back in time you go, the less accurate ancient activities and behaviors become due to a lack of data. Sometimes people and objects were preserved intentionally such as with mummies in Egyptian tombs. But more often, people and objects were not intentionally preserved, and it is only by luck, due to where they were laid to rest, that they survived and were found by researchers.

One famous and well researched modern discovery is Ötzi the iceman who was found on the border between Italy and Austria in 1991. Initially people thought he was a modern victim, but soon realized that instead, he had been lying in the ice for thousands of years. His remains are now kept at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. Do an internet search on Ötzi to learn more about him. The museum’s site is a good source of information with sections on the discovery itself, milestones in past research, and descriptions of current research on the iceman. However, he is not the only ancient discovery. You can explore others here:

The Perfect Corpse

Mummies 101

If the discovery of Ötzi had taken place in 1891 rather than 1991, the way his remains were handled and the research that could be done would have been very different. Identify and describe one modern analysis/technique that has been performed to learn more about Ötzi that could not have been done in the 1800s.

  • It stands to reason that researchers in 2091 will have more technologies at their disposal to research a discovery like Ötzi. Should research on his remains be limited today so that he can be preserved and studied in the future? Provide one pro and one con of conducting research now rather than waiting. Discuss one benefit and one negative of putting research off until a much later date.

Advances in biotechnology have revolutionized the study of ancient remains. In Ötzi’s case, a genetic study showed that his DNA most closely matched up with people that currently live in Sardinia. One hypothesis for this is that at Ötzi’s time, a group of people with similar DNA spread throughout Europe including Sardinia. Sardinia is somewhat isolated so the DNA of the population living there has changed very little since that time. On mainland Europe, where his remains were found, there was more mixing of populations so there have been changes to the DNA profiles of the people living in that region.

  • Based on the genetic results, do you think Ötzi should be considered Sardinian even though he lived in the Alps? Why or why not?
  • Today you can have your DNA sampled and you can learn more about which genetic groups you are most closely matched to – just like was done with Ötzi. Is this something you would be interested in knowing? Why or why not?


Unit 8 Discussion Post

Contains unread posts

Deidre Oliver posted Aug 23, 2022 10:11 AM


     In order to learn more about Ötzi’s fashion choices, Maixner and his colleagues at the European Academy of Bozen/Bolzano (EURAC) used a form of DNA analysis that relies on markers found in mitochondrial DNA. While most DNA is stored in chromosomes within cells, mitochondria contain a tiny piece of their own DNA. It’s a small fraction of the total human genome, but for the scientists, it was enough to pinpoint several animals that Ötzi turned into specific pieces of clothes (Lewis, 2016). I think the remains should be limited today so that he can be preserved and studied in the future. Pros of conducting research now rather than waiting we can use the information for future research,  and teach out children about Ötzi. Cons conducting research now rather than waiting we may compare ourselves to going through what Ötzi went through. One benefit of putting research off until a much later date we have to learn to live in the present and no worry about the past as much.  Negative part is we may never know about about history and how to educate our children. Ötzi should be considered Sardinian. His maternal genetic heritage no longer exists in modern populations, but his paternal line lives on in groups found on Mediterranean islands, especially Sardinia according to (Pinkowski, 2011).   

     I’ve had DNA testing done. The BRCA1 or BRCA2 testing was performed after I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer the 2nd time. People who inherit harmful variants in one of these genes have increased risks of several cancers—most notably breast and ovarian cancer, but also several additional types of cancer. People who have inherited a harmful variant in BRCA1 and BRCA2 also tend to develop cancer at younger ages than people who do not have such a variant.  A harmful variant in BRCA1 or BRCA2 can be inherited from either parent. Each child of a parent who carries any mutation in one of these genes has a 50% chance (or 1 in 2 chance) of inheriting the mutation. Inherited mutations—also called germline mutations or variants—are present from birth in all cells in the body according to ( Domchek, 2007).  It was a very interesting process and I’m glad I had it done. It took some time for the results to come back.


Tai YC, Domchek S, Parmigiani G, Chen S. Breast cancer risk among male BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2007; 99(23):1811–1814

Lewis, Danny

Pinkowski, Jennifer

Unit 8 – Discussion

Contains unread posts

Derick Aguey-Zinsou posted Aug 24, 2022 11:19 PM


The most notable difference between the 1980’s and the 1990’s in the handling of and the research on old remains is the use of non invasive techniques in paleopathology. The use of techniques like computed tomography offers the ability to research remains in a non invasive way.

Conducting research with the existing knowledge have the pro that it can give information about various situation that may need immediate attention. By example, if the analysis have been post-poned in the case of Otzi the Iceman, maybe the remains will have been just dumped and we will have never discovered his age.

The con of using actual techniques to make research can be that some evidences can be destroyed because handled the bad way.

A new generation of CAT scanners with increased power of resolution has been released and virtual autopsy has also become one of the basic steps in any scientific investigation of remains. Visualization technology give the ability to research a remains without touching it reducing the risk of degradation.

Based on the results of Otzi the Iceman ADN analysis, I will not deduct that he was Sardinian. The best hypothesis will be that the Sardinian population are somehow a lineage from him. We don’t really have enough evidence to conclude that he is Sardinian.

I will not be interested in testing my ADN against a genetic group. I think that human are more defined by their conduct than by their ADN.

Works cited:

Moissidou, D., Day, J., Shin, D. H., & Bianucci, R. (2015, August 6). Invasive versus Non Invasive Methods Applied to Mummy Research: Will This Controversy Ever Be Solved? National Library of Medecine. Retrieved August 24, 2022, from

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