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Scientists Have Mapped All of Ötzi the Iceman’s 61 Tattoos

By Carl Engelking

Proving that tattoos can age well, all 61 tattoos on the mummified Ötzi the Iceman have been mapped — and they still look pretty darn good, all things considered.

Anthropologists mapped the ink on the 5,300-year-remains using a new imaging technique, revealing previously-unknown tattoos. With this new census in hand, researchers hope to finally answer the question of what the tattoos mean.

Ancient Ink

In September 1991, two tourists discovered the Iceman’s remains nestled into a glacier in the Italian Alps. Since then, researchers have rigorously analyzed the Iceman to paint a picture of what life was like during the start of the Bronze Age some 5,300 years ago. We now know that he suffered from a variety of degenerative ailments and ultimately died from an arrow wound to the shoulder. However, his peculiar horizontal line tattoos are still a formidable riddle to solve.

Early studies initially detected some 49 to 57 tattoos, eventually rising to 59. The tallies varied over time because his tattoos are difficult to spot. For one, the guy is 5,300 years old so his skin is understandably weathered and browned. On top of that, his tattoos were likely applied by puncturing the top layer of skin and rubbing in charcoal. Dark, ancient skin and black ink don’t offer a lot of contrast.

In order to up the contrast, researchers in the most recent study used a multispectral imaging technique that detected color differences on the skin — even in the non-visible range. This upped the contrast on the Iceman’s body, and revealed a set of chest tattoos not seen before, bringing the final tally to 61 tattoos. They published their findings this week in the Journal of Cultural Heritage.

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X-Men’s Shawn Ashmore Interested in Playing Iceman as Gay

While at the 2015 Game Awards to promote his upcoming game, Quantum Break, actor Shawn Ashmore told us that he would be down for playing Iceman in another X-Men movie. Iceman recently came out as gay in the comics, and Ashmore said he was interested in portraying that turn of events on screen.

“Obviously the comics and movies are separate. I wonder what the transition would be because we’ve sort of established Bobby as having a love interest in Rogue and having a love interest in sort of Kitty Pryde, but I think it’d be really interesting,” Ashmore said. 

“I think it’d probably be the most interesting thing that could happen to Bobby in the films. If they decided to take the story that way, it’d be incredibly dramatic, it’d be an interesting storyline, and it would give Bobby a great character arc. I’d definitely be open to that, but again, I’m not sure if they want to take the character in that direction. I have no idea how they would play that out. I think it’d be very interesting.”