Sci­en­tists find last meal for ‘Ice­man’ was well-bal­anced

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - INSCIENCE - BY EMIL­IANO RO­DRIGUEZ MEGA

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 whole­wheat 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 up­ward. It was not un­til 2009, 18 years af­ter his re­mains were dis­cov­ered near the ItalyAus­tria 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.”


A re­port re­leased on Thurs­day showed that the frozen hunter known as Oetzi the Ice­man ate wild goat, red deer and whole-wheat seeds shortly be­fore his death 5,300 years ago in the Alps.

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