5,300-year-old Iceman didn’t die hungry

Examination of iceman's stomach contents show the copper-age Alps dweller ate high fat diet. Credit:Southtyrolarchaeologymuseum\Eurac\M.Samadelli

Otzi, the Iceman who lived in the Italian Alps 5,300-year-ago died on a full stomach.

German hikers found his mummified body in the Italian Alps in 1991. Since then scientists have studied many aspects of his lifestyle. Previous findings have suggested he was ambushed from behind and killed.

Now, a new study published in the Journal Current Biology says an examination of his stomach contents show he had a full meal just a half-hour or two prior to his death.

“He seems to have had a remarkably high proportion of fat in his diet, supplemented with fresh or dried wild meat,” the scientists said.

He had cereals and traces of toxic bracken in his tummy. The examination of his full stomach provides a deep insight into copper-age food habits.

Previously scientists have determined Otzi had 61 tattoos, arthritis and bad teeth.

“A recent radiological re-examination of the Iceman, a 5,300- year-old European natural ice mummy, identified his completely filled stomach. The well-preserved stomach content still contains ancient endogenous biomolecules,” the study authors said.

“Further analyses of lower intestinal tract samples of the Iceman confirmed that he was omnivorous, with a diet consisting of both wild animal and plant material. Among the plant remains, there were cereals, pollen grains of hop-hornbeam, and fragments of bracken and mosses. The detection of the Iceman’s stomach content with its pristine yet undigested food mix, provides the unique opportunity to fully reconstruct a Copper Age meal.”

“These data suggest that the Iceman’s last meal was well balanced in terms of essential minerals required for good health with no evidence of toxic heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, or arsenic.”

The high fat content of his diet, from animal fats, suggests the iceman ate fatty diets because of the demands for high energy at altitude and for walking in mountainous terrain.

Credit: Journal Current Biology