ShareThis Page
World

Ancient 'Iceman' shows signs of a well-balanced last meal

| Thursday, July 12, 2018, 11:33 a.m.
This undated microscope photo provided by the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in July 2018 shows part of a wheat grain spikelet found in the stomach of the frozen hunter known as Oetzi the Iceman in Italy. The scale bar indicates 500 microns. In a report released on Thursday, July 12, 2018, scientists said the analysis offers a snapshot of what ancient Europeans ate more than five millennia ago. (Marco Samadelli/Eurac/South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology via AP)
This undated microscope photo provided by the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in July 2018 shows part of a wheat grain spikelet found in the stomach of the frozen hunter known as Oetzi the Iceman in Italy. The scale bar indicates 500 microns. In a report released on Thursday, July 12, 2018, scientists said the analysis offers a snapshot of what ancient Europeans ate more than five millennia ago. (Marco Samadelli/Eurac/South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology via AP)
In this November 2010 photo provided by the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, researchers examine the body of a frozen hunter known as Oetzi the Iceman to sample his stomach contents in Bolzano, Italy. In a report released on Thursday, July 12, 2018, scientists said the analysis offers a snapshot of what ancient Europeans ate more than five millennia ago. (Marco Samadelli/Eurac/South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology via AP)
In this November 2010 photo provided by the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, researchers examine the body of a frozen hunter known as Oetzi the Iceman to sample his stomach contents in Bolzano, Italy. In a report released on Thursday, July 12, 2018, scientists said the analysis offers a snapshot of what ancient Europeans ate more than five millennia ago. (Marco Samadelli/Eurac/South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology via AP)

NEW YORK — Talk about a paleo diet. Scientists have uncovered the last meal of a frozen hunter who died 5,300 years ago in the Alps.

The stomach contents of the corpse, widely known as Oetzi the Iceman, offer a snapshot of what ancient Europeans ate more than five millennia ago, researchers said.

On the menu, described Thursday in the journal Current Biology, were the fat and meat of a wild goat, meat of a red deer and whole wheat seeds, which Oetzi ate shortly before his death.

Traces of fern leaves and spores were also discovered in Oetzi’s stomach. Scientists think he may have swallowed the plant unintentionally or as a medicine for parasites previously found in his gut.

“It was very impressive,” said lead author Frank Maixner, a microbiologist at the Institute for Mummy Studies in Bolzano, Italy. “We could see chunks and pieces of food with (the) naked eye.”

Though the researchers had previously examined Oetzi’s intestines, this was the first time they could look into his stomach.

The reason is nothing short of grotesque.

Following Oetzi’s death, the organ moved upwards. It was not until 2009, 18 years after his remains were discovered near the Italy-Austria border, that a radiologist detected it behind the rib cage. And it was full. After slowly defrosting the body, the team took samples and rehydrated them.

Nearly half the stomach contents were identified as the body fat of an ibex, a wild goat that still lives in the Alps. That’s a lot of fat. But scientists think the finding makes sense.

“It’s a harsh environment,” said Maixner, who has climbed to the cold and windy site where Oetzi was found. “They had to be prepared. They had to have food that gave them the necessary energy (to survive).”

Albina Hulda Palsdottir, an archaeozoologist from the University of Oslo, believes the findings are very valuable.

“They’re trying to use all the methods in the toolbox to answer this really important question of what people were really eating” back then, she said.

Now, Maixner and his team are hoping to reconstruct the composition of bacteria and other microorganisms that lived in the Iceman’s gut, and see how it differs from what modern people show.

“Oetzi is always interesting,” Hulda Palsdottir said. “He’s already told us so much.”

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me