Category Archives: Anthropology

Ötzi’s Tattoos – Medicine in the Copper Age

Ötzi Reconstruction (© South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology -

Ötzi Reconstruction
(© South Tyrol Museum
of Archaeology

Ötzi the Iceman died between 3500 – 3100 BC in the Tyrol region of the Italian Alps. Ice quickly covered him and preserved his body until German hikers discovered it in 1991. Ötzi was found with his clothing, tools, and weapons – a snapshot of Copper Age life and a rare gift to archaeologists.

He was also found with almost 50 tattoos.

Archaeologists had never seen tattoos from the Copper Age before. Body tattoos were known to exist in ancient times, but the only evidence of that work is contained on figurines and wall carvings, which might or might not be accurate. Ötzi’s skin was a direct record from the past, although the information it contained was unpretentious: simple lines and crosses on his ankles, wrists, knees, lower back and Achilles tendon. These wouldn’t be the designs or sites to pick if his purpose was only body decoration. Many scientists now believe, however, that his markings weren’t art at all, but systematic healing therapies.

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Bootstrapping the Brain? Coevolution of Tool Making and Language

A new brain imaging study has shown evidence that human language might have emerged together with advanced tool making skills.  Because we can physically date much of the timeline for tool making, the work indicates that language could have emerged almost two million years ago – far earlier than Homo sapiens.

While the results aren’t definitive, the study demonstrates

  •  New technologies that monitor brain performance while people perform practical tasks, and
  •  New methods for dating events that don’t have physical records (like language) by associating them with events that do

Work like this brings neuroscience into the realm of experimental archaeology, offering new approaches to studying the past.

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