Friday, October 31, 2003

The Iceman's Teeth

This week's issue of Science (subscription required) has an interesting sounding article about Ötzi, the "iceman" discovered in the Tyrolean Alps in 1991. According to reports on "Morning Edition" and the BBC, the study looked at various isotopes in Ötzi's teeth and bones and then compared them to the chemistry of the rocks and soil of various Alpine valleys known to have remnants of Neolithic settlements.

The really cool thing is that, as the BBC puts it, "Biominerals from the diet are deposited in the body at different times -- in the teeth, for example, during childhood, and in the bones in adult life.” Thus by looking at the teeth, they can determine that he grew up in the Eisack Valley in South Tyrol.

I wonder during what range of childhood the local minerals are drawn up to build adult teeth. I was 1 when my father was transferred to England by the Navy and we stayed there until somewhere around my 5th birthday. Would my adult teeth -- which my dentist once described as "belonging to an old Asian man" -- have been influenced more by Britain or Louisiana? I'm not sure when I lost my first baby tooth, but I know most of them had to come out in Louisiana (but I lost at least one at summer camp in Tennessee -- I'm still not sure why the tooth fairy couldn't find me there).

In any case, the Südtiroler Archäologiemuseum in Bozen (Bolzano), Italy, is the current home to Ötzi, and its website walks through the Ötzi exhibition and the related Copper Age exhibit. It looks like a pretty cool museum ... hurm, would it be easier to fly into: Milano or München?

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