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The Straight Dope



Since you dealt so thoroughly with gerbil stuffing a few years back, I know you are the man to answer this question. There is a rumor going around about that frozen Stone Age man they found in the glacier between Austria and Italy in September 1991. What I have heard is that scientists found traces of semen in the man's anus. I know this is sticky territory, but is this rumor true? I haven't seen this mentioned in any AP news bulletins. --Wayne L. Wilson, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Nothing like a good cheeseball question to brighten up a dull day. The following report, which supposedly originated in a Boston weekly called In, was posted on computer bulletin boards last fall:

"Se non e vero, e ben trovato." ("If it isn't true, it's a good story"--the headline, I assume.)

"Otztal Valley, Italy--The mainstream media reported widely on "Otzi," the 5,477-year-old Stone Age man found mummified in a melting glacier high in the Italian Tyrolean Alps. The U.S. media did not, however, share a gripping detail that was reported in Italy, Austria, Switzerland, and elsewhere: there was sperm in Otzi's anal canal. 'The Tyrolean scholars have not given this little detail any special significance,' according to Lambda Nachrichten, the magazine of Homosexual Initiative Vienna, Austria's leading gay organization, 'but there can only be one explanation: Otzi had sex with another man in the Alps!

"'The tight-assed Tyrolean scholars were uncomfortable even having to acknowledge it,' Lambda said, 'but Otzi is the first known homosexual man that enjoyed being [made a receptacle of lust] . . . . Otzi was the passive partner--of this there is absolutely no doubt. . . . The sperm was carbon-dated.' . . . According to the Zurich, Switzerland, newspaper Blick: "Since the homosexual innuendo has made the rounds, politicians in the North and South Tyrol regions suddenly have less interest in poor Otzi. And in Otztal they're afraid they're going to end up being called 'Homo Valley.'"

The headline pretty much says it all. Other dubious details include Otzi's absurdly exact age (what did they do, find his driver's license?) and the fact that the initials of Homosexual Initiative Vienna are HIV. But the real problem is this: judging from the photos, Otzi may not have an anus. His entire crotch, including penis and testicles, appears to be gone.

The rumor isn't a U.S. invention, though. Through the miracle of the Internet, hero of science Philipp Keller of Zurich, Switzerland, sent us a translation of a recent article in the German magazine Der Spiegel revealing that in Europe all manner of wild stories are swirling around Otzi. (Thanks also to Snopes and Al Wesolowsky for research assistance.) In addition to the semen rumor, German TV journalist Michael Heim claims in a new book that Otzi's body is suspiciously well preserved and must be a fraud. A recent article in Nature doesn't go that far but says there are many unanswered questions and that research is disorganized. And of course there's the woman who's writing a book saying she's Otzi's reincarnation.

Rumors have flourished largely because of the silence from the scientists investigating Otzi. Research was held up for over a year because of a dispute between Italy and Austria over ownership of the body. (It was found a few yards from the border.) That was resolved about three months ago, and examination of the body is now proceeding. But the 100 scientists from seven countries who are working on the project are contractually bound to secrecy--the University of Innsbruck, where the work is being conducted, wants to make sure it gets the money from the book and photo rights to defray research costs. An official account is supposed to hit the streets this fall. We can't wait to hear what they really found in Otzi's nether regions, what's left of them. As one of Cecil's screwball correspondents remarks, "What would be even more bizarre is if the semen is found to be, say, only two years old."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

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