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Lyme Disease Found in Oldest Human Blood Sample

lyme disease detected in oldest human blood sample Otzi copper age hunter

Meet Otzi, the man preserved for more than 5000 years in a glacier, who, it turns out, had Lyme disease.

The oldest trace of human blood ever found has tested positive for Lyme disease, seemingly putting Lyme disease origin myths to rest once and for all. Otzi, the prehistoric iceman who roamed the Alps nearly five and a half thousand years ago had his blood taken from tissue samples excised after his extraction from a glacier in 1991. German and Italian scientists working on the well-preserved body have so far looked at his stomach, bowels, and teeth but were surprised to find such intact samples of the man’s blood.

Testing an Iceman for Lyme Disease

Using an atomic force microscope, the researchers looked at tissue around the arrow wound that killed Otzi, who was named after the area in Germany in which he was found. The scientist at the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman at the European Academy in Bolzano, Professor Albert Zink, noted that the samples “looked similar to modern-day blood samples.” The new technique could be used to analyze mummies from Egypt but these samples from the Copper Age man are the oldest blood cells ever found.

Using Nanotechnology to Investigate Crime?

Otzi had brown hair, type O blood, and has been put at around forty-five years of age when he died in the Tyrolean mountains around 5,300 years ago. Now undergoing nanotechnology scrutiny, the surface of Otzi’s tissue is being scanned slowly using a tiny probe that measures ever miniscule deflection of the probe, building a three-dimensional image in painstaking detail. The familiar red blood cell ‘doughnut’ shape was spotted by the team, and the potential applications for the technology in criminal forensics are now being discussed in anthropology circles. It could be that the nanotechnology allows for age-identification of blood spots found at crime scenes.

Otiz was Lactose Intolerant, and Infected with Lyme Disease

In the meantime, the scientists continue to analyze the results of tests on Otzi, including the mapping of his genome, which revealed a predisposition for cardiovascular disease, as well as the genes coding for his brown eyes. The Iceman was also lactose intolerant, like many Neolithic people, and he has the peculiar honor of being the first-known carrier of Lyme disease.

Further Study of First Lyme Disease Case

The scientists intend to carry on studying Otzi to look at enzymes, proteins, and the man’s immune system, but he has seemingly already settled one debate. Lyme disease did not emerge from Plum Island, there were people suffering Lyme disease symptoms more than five thousand years ago, with the oldest human blood ever found proving positive for Lyme disease infection.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Laura May 26, 2012, 2:16 am

    This would be far more interesting if they mentioned the method of testing that proved he had lyme disease. Seems strange that they can find it in a 5K year old dead guy but seem to have so much difficulty finding it in living humans today.

    • Rosemarie June 5, 2012, 12:58 pm


  • Rosemarie June 5, 2012, 1:10 pm

    I agree with Laura’s comment 100%.
    It makes one wonder with all the information available in today’s world why it continues to be “shameful” how people are not diagnosed quickly, treated as quacks, unreported/underreported and the CDC guidelines to make the diagnosis inadequate.

  • Julie June 12, 2012, 3:25 pm


    I too am fascinated by the fact that they could find “evidence” of LD in Otzi. It’s also crossed my mind, that this is a ploy to ‘debunk’ that Lyme is a man-made bioweapon….things that make you go “hmmm”…..

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