Hair from mummy's clothes provides insights into red deer lineage


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Analysis of deer hair from Tyrolean Iceman's clothing sheds light on red deer lineage

Genetic analysis of Neolithic deer hair from Italian Alps mummy's clothes ties deer population to modern day western European lineage, in contrast to the eastern lineage found in the Italian alps today, according to a study published July 2, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONEby Cristina Olivieri from University of Camerino, Italy and colleagues.

Found in the Italian Alps in 1991, Tyrolean Iceman's body, clothing, and equipment were exceptionally well preserved. The mummy lived ~5,300 years ago, during the Copper Age and previous analysis suggests that Neolithic red deer were a source for clothing, food, and tools. However, little is known about the lineage of the Neolithic red deer population. Combined with current lineage information about contemporary and ancient red deer populations, scientists scientists analyzed red deer hair from the mummy's clothing. The scientists obtained DNA from the hair shafts collected from the fur worn by the Tyrolean Iceman. Then using genetic analysis, sequenced the DNA and compared the results with phylogeny of contemporary and ancient red deer populations.

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Median-joining phylogenetic network of the 1,118 bp cytb sequences depicting the relationship of the Alpine Copper Age red deer with the modern European red deer haplotypes.

Each circle refers to one haplotype. Colour of the node indicates the geographic location of the haplotypes. Red colour of circle outline represents the position of the Alpine Copper Age Cervus elaphus. Line connecting each circle represents phylogenetic branches. Numbers along each branch are transitions and refer to nucleotide position variants relative to C. elaphus reference sequence. Black dots represent median vectors.


Red deer fall into three distinct genetic lineages, western, eastern, and North-African/Sardinian. The genetic analyses of the Neolithic deer hair showed that the Alpine Copper Age red deer falls within the western European lineage. This contrasts the current populations in the Italian Alps, which belongs to the eastern lineage. The authors suggest these differences in lineage may highlight the impact of different glacial refugia and postglacial recolonization processes of the European red deer population.


Citation: Olivieri C, Marota I, Rizzi E, Ermini L, Fusco L, et al. (2014) Positioning the Red Deer (Cervuselaphus) Hunted by the Tyrolean Iceman into a Mitochondrial DNA Phylogeny. PLoS ONE 9(7): e100136. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0100136

Funding: This study was supported by the University of Camerino (Fondo di Ricerca di Ateneo). ER was supported by Italian Research Ministry grants ''Futuro in ricerca'' RBFR08U07M_003 and RBFR126B8I_003.