5,300-Year-Old Otzi the Iceman Was Wearing Clothing from Five Separate Animal Species
Otzi the Iceman, a mummy found in 1991 on a glacier in the Tyrolean Alps, was clothed in a bearskin cap, goatskin leggings, sheepskin coat, cow skin shoes and a deerskin quiver when he was killed in an attack about 5,300 years ago, new research shows.
Researchers had previously thought that at least the leggings or pants consisted of some type of fox, dog or wolf. New DNA analysis shows that instead they were made of goatskin from a species of goat that still inhabits the Alps today, according to an article on National Geographic. The researchers in the new study also examined his quiver.
An article on Smithsonian.com says the Iceman’s shoes were fashioned from the leather of cattle, possibly because it is tough material. His coat, which had white and black stripes, was made with sheepskin for warmth. His quiver was made of deerskin and his hat of bearskin.
Researchers discovered that Ötzi’s leather hide coat and loincloth were made of sheepskin, which has been known from previous studies. New analysis shows that instead of being one wild sheep, the coat and cloth were crafted from four individual wild sheep.
A similar pair of goat leather leggings may indicate that the skin of goats was used in clothing for some specific quality, National Geographic says. That pair of leggings is about 4,500 years old and was discovered in Switzerland.
The researchers, who published their findings in Scientific Reports, based their analysis on ancient DNA markers in nine leather pieces from among Ötzi’s attire.
The article in Scientific Reports states:
The Tyrolean Iceman, a 5,300-year-old (Copper Age) natural mummy, discovered in the Italian Ötztal Alps in 1991 provides a direct archaeological link to prehistoric Europe. Two decades of analysis concerning this individual have provided insights into ancestry, diet, tools, lifestyle, health and attire. Despite multiple studies and their relatively good preservation, ambiguity still persists as to the species of origin for the majority of the Iceman’s clothes. A more complete characterisation of his garments is therefore required, if we are to maximise the information provided by these artefacts and gain further insights into the choice of raw material from which Copper Age populations manufactured their clothes.
The article states that ancient, preserved leathers give valuable information about how people used secondary products of animals. It says until recently, the material of Ötzi’s clothing was so decomposed that biomolecular research on it has been thwarted in part because structural features of the leather and fur needed to identify them with a microscope are missing or damaged.
So the researchers used genetic and DNA analysis to better ascertain what animal skins comprised the clothing.
The researchers wrote that “The Iceman’s garments and quiver are from an assemblage of at least five different species of animal. The coat alone was a combination of at least four hides and two species: goat and sheep. This result may indicate a haphazard stitching together of clothing based upon materials that were available to the Iceman, as ancient rudimentary leather is posited to rapidly deteriorate after manufacture.”
Research has shown Ötzi was what the authors call an agro-pastoralist (farmer-livestock herder), but his quiver and hat show that he also may have been a trapper and hunter of wild animals.
In May 2015, Ancient Origins reported Ötzi was a victim of homicide. Researchers say he suffered a quick, violent death that was over quickly but may not have been painless, National Geographic reports . He had an arrow wound, but his death probably came from a blow to the back of his head.
The new study on the DNA of the animals his clothes were made from is the latest of many years of post-mortem studies on Ötzi’s body and artifacts. Scientists in June 2014 decoded Ötzi’s genome from a hip bone sample. However the tiny sample weighing no more than 0.1 g provides so much more information. A team of scientists from EURAC in Bolzano/Bozen together with colleagues from the University of Vienna successfully analyzed the DNA of unicellular organisms in the sample. They found evidence for the presence of Treponema denticola , an opportunistic pathogen involved in the development of periodontal disease. Thus, by just looking at the DNA, the researchers could support a CT-based diagnosis made last year which indicated that the Iceman suffered from periodontitis.
Top image: This photo of Ötzi’s clothing was taken by Niall O Sullivan of the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman.
By Mark Miller