The great gay caveman hoax.
History

The great gay caveman hoax.

Published
Nov 22, 2022
Author
Mike Rampton

A headline-making caveman. 

In September 1991, two German tourists exploring the Ötztal Alps along the border of Austria and Italy found a dead body. They alerted the authorities, who dug the body out and, after some tests, made a pretty startling discovery: rather than, as the hikers had suspected, a mountaineer who had run into some trouble fairly recently, the man they found had been dead for around 5,000 years.

Ötzi, as the man became known, had lived in the Copper Age, or Chalcolithic Era, meeting his end in his mid-forties around 3230 BCE. Due to his body being covered in ice and snow shortly after dying, it had been remarkably well preserved for millennia, and scientists were able to discover enormous amounts about life back then—the contents of his stomach revealed information about dietary and cooking habits; chemicals found in his hair revealed he was involved in copper smelting; analysis of bone erosion provided insights into his nomadic lifestyle. He had multiple tattoos, as well as tools and weaponry which led to colossal amounts of learning, speculation and debate.

However, a while after his discovery, Ötzi hit the headlines for very different reasons: newspapers around the world began reporting that semen was found in Ötzi's rectum.

It was such a good story that outlets everywhere ran it without researching too deeply. This was the 1990s, when verifying information from other countries was a lot more complicated than it is today, and even if some of the details of the story seemed a bit unlikely, once a few reputable papers and agencies were running it, there seemed to be no reason not to.

Subsequent investigation showed that the story had originated with Austrian gay magazine Lambda Nachrichten (a publication put out by the Austria's largest gay, lesbian and bisexual association) and had been published on April 1st as an April Fools’ Day joke. It was picked up and run as a legitimate story by papers in Austria, then Switzerland, then the huge German magazine Der Spiegel, which led to it being spread across the world, its jokey origins left far behind. 

The truth is, semen was never found in Ötzi’s anus. While scientists did examine him there, it was to get to his intestines to determine what he ate. 

Why did the implausible tale of Ötzi’s backside spread so wide? For the same reason that, in 2011, speculation that a grave in Prague might contain a member of a ‘third gender’ went viral and became reported as fact. True or not—and in the Prague case, rather than an outright hoax, it was a speculative comment that got taken out of context—it’s sensationalism that has a lot to answer for.

But in a world where homophobia and transphobia are still rife, you can see why people would jump on these stories. Nothing ‘legitimizes’ a lifestyle or identity in the face of those who believe it to be illegitimate like proof it’s a long-standing part of humanity. 

There were almost certainly same-sex relationships among early humans, because there have been during every stage of recorded history. Ötzi’s sexuality could have looked like a number of things, but alas, they are most likely lost to time forever. 

The great gay caveman hoax.

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