Studying "Otzi, the Ice Man" Leads to Outstanding Research Award: Adrianna Kennedy, '21

May 7, 2021

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Adrianna Kennedy
Adrianna Kennedy

Adrianna Kennedy, who is graduating with a B.S. in Anthropology with a human biology emphasis, is the recipient of the SBS Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award for spring 2021. This award recognizes a graduating senior in the College of SBS who has demonstrated academic achievement, originality, and creativity in an independent, undergraduate research project.

Adrianna conducted original research on Ötzi, also called the Iceman, the natural mummy of a man who lived between 3400 and 3100 BCE, discovered 30 years ago. Her research drew a possible correlation between his tattoos and arsenic poisoning and contributes to insights into cultural beliefs and practices concerning medicinal treatments of people living in Copper Age Europe.

Ötzi’s tattoos were likely medicinal due to their simplistic design and placement over known acupuncture points, Adrianna said.

“While previous research has argued that the tattoos aimed to treat arthritis, sciatic nerve pain, Lyme disease, and localized injuries, there is scant evidence that Ötzi suffered from these,” Adrianna said. “I proposed instead that some of the tattoos were an attempt to treat the effects of arsenic poisoning, Analysis on Ötzi’s hair revealed extremely high quantities of arsenic, which could have been a consequence of repeated arsenic exposure, as it is a byproduct of the copper smelting process.”

“She is the first person to draw this link and make this claim, which she presented very elegantly in her paper,” said Emma Blake, associate professor in the School of Anthropology. “Adrianna’s paper on Ötzi shows her intellectual creativity and raw intelligence, and it is a fascinating piece of original research.”

In fall 2020, Adrianna presented her research at the prestigious Young Investigator Symposium organized by the Max Planck–Harvard Research Center for the Archaeoscience of the Ancient Mediterranean. Adrianna was one of only 18 students (undergraduate and M.A.) accepted to participate.

“I cannot believe my time at the University of Arizona has come to a close,” Adrianna said. “These past four years have been some of the best, and I have my amazing friends, family, and the incredibly supportive faculty to thank! I would not be where I am today if not for Dr. Emma Blake introducing me to the field of Anthropology and acting as a mentor figure. I look forward to seeing what the future has to offer and cannot wait to apply to graduate school, as I intend to continue my studies in the field of bioarchaeology."