|28 November 2001
Almost a decade has passed since the frozen body of a Stone Age man now called Ötzi was discovered in the Ötztal Alps on the border between Italy and Austria, and science is still revealing secrets and refining theories about the 5,000-year-old Iceman.
Discovered September 19, 1991, the corpse was draped over a boulder and equipped with clothes (a bearskin hat, bark-fiber cape, jacket and leggings of goat- and deer-skin, a loincloth and shoes) and gear (a fire-making kit, longbow, quiver of arrows, hafted copper axe, birch-bark containers, and a backpack).
Only about 160 centimeters (5 feet, 3 inches) tall and about 46 years old, Ötzi has kept scientists busy around the world. At the University of Glasgow (Scotland) a recently completed microscopic analysis of a tiny sample of food residue extracted from Ötzi's colon has shed new light on his diet, his state of health, and the season of his death.
Analysis of pollen in the residue revealed a variety of pollen types, including that of a small tree called hop hornbeam. Much of the hornbeam pollen still contains its cellular contents. Ötzi probably ingested this pollen in drinking water at a time when the tree was in flower - late spring to early summer. It had previously been supposed that he had died during the autumn. The food residue also contains the eggs of a parasite, a whipworm; and had the infestation been bad, it could have been debilitating, causing diarrhea and even dysentery.
Bran fragments in the colon show Ötzi had eaten a primitive cereal called einkorn, as well as some barley. The fineness of the bran suggests the grains were in the form of bread rather than a coarsely ground gruel. The analysis also revealed undigested meat fibers. Perhaps he had eaten Alpine ibex, since a splinter from an ibex neck bone was found beside the body. Whatever the precise identity of the meat, it is clear that he ate a wide variety of foodstuffs. In other words, Ötzi was omnivorous, as we would expect of prehistoric eating habits.
Sources: Archaeology Today (23 October 2001), USA Today (24 October 2001)
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