Prehistoric Alpine 'Ice Man' May Have Been Sterile

New DNA analysis indicates that a 5,000-year-old mummy found frozen in the Italian Alps may have been sterile — a hypothesis that would support the theory that he may have been a social outcast, officials said Friday.

Franco Rollo, an anthropologist and ancient DNA specialist, also determined that the man's genetic makeup belonged to one of the eight basic groups of DNA occurring in Europe, although his particular DNA belonged to a subgroup that has been identified for the first time, officials said.

The South Tyrol Archaeological Museum in Italy's northern Alto Adige region, where the remains are housed, announced the findings of Rollo's research Friday.

Rollo's findings also appear in the February issue of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, the statement said.

A group of hikers discovered the well-preserved body in 1991. Since then, the mummy and his clothing and tools have opened a window on the previously little known world of copper-age Europe.

Rollo, of the University of Camerino, in Marche, Italy, and his team carried out tests on mitochondrial DNA on tissue samples taken from the mummy in 2000 and found two typical mutations that are common among men with reduced sperm mobility, the statement said. While not all men with reduced sperm mobility are sterile, a high percentage are, the museum said.

"The possibility that he was unable to father offspring cannot be eliminated," Rollo reported. "This not improbable hypothesis raises new questions concerning his social rank within his society."

Since offspring are typically associated with high social prestige, a sterile man would tend to be rejected by society, the statement said.

Previously, researchers have suggested the mummy may have been a social outcast and the new findings support that hypothesis, Rollo said.

X-rays have also that the man was killed by an arrow, with the flint arrowhead remaining in his left shoulder. That has led to speculation ranging from death in battle to ritual killing.