OETZI, THE FAMOUS “iceman” mummy of the Alps, appears to have enjoyed a fine slice or two of Stone Age bacon before he was killed by an arrow some 5,300 years ago.
His last meal was most likely dried goat meat, according to scientists who recently managed to dissect the contents of Oetzi’s stomach.
“We’ve analysed the meat’s nanostructure and it looks like he ate very fatty, dried meat, most likely bacon,” German mummy expert Albert Zink said at a talk in Vienna late Wednesday.
Meat from red deer, fat and meat from ibex (wild goat), and some einkorn cereal were all found in his stomach. He seemed to have been aware that fat is an excellent energy source, said the scientists, especially given he lived in such a challenging environment.
Intriguingly, he also had some bracken particles in his stomach – bracken is toxic, but the scientists said that it is still consumed today by different indigenous people, or else it is possible that the traces come from something used to wrap his food in.
The bacon is thought to have come from a wild goat in South Tyrol, the northern Italian region where Oetzi roamed around and where his remains were found in September 1991.
His stomach was full, which meant he gave the scientists a lot to work with. They say in their study:
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.
Mummified in ice, he was discovered by two German hikers in the Oetztal Alps, 3,210 metres above sea level.
Scientists have used hi-tech, non-invasive diagnostics and genomic sequencing to penetrate his mysterious past.
These efforts have determined Oetzi died around the age of 45, was about 1.60 metres (five foot, three inches) tall and weighed 50 kilos.
He suffered a violent death, with an arrow severing a major blood vessel between the rib cage and the left shoulder-blade, as well as a laceration on the hand.
As part of their latest discoveries, Zink’s team also found that Oetzi had an ulcer-inducing bacteria and may have suffered from stomach aches.
But for all his parasites, worn ligaments and bad teeth, he was in “pretty good shape”, Zink wrote in the renowned US magazine Science.
- Additional reporting Aoife Barry