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His Last Meals

 

What did Ötzi eat on the last day of his life?

A number of studies have been done on the contents of the Iceman's intestines:

Study of Ötzi's Colon (10/23/01)

Researchers at the University of Glasgow found whipworm parasite eggs in the Iceman's colon. This means that Ötzi had a fairly severe intestinal disorder which would have caused diarrhea or possibly dysentery. Barley, meat, and a cereal grain known as einkorn were also found; these would have comprised his last meal or meals.

Perhaps the most important finding was pollen, ingested when he drank water from local streams. These pollens indicate that he may well have died in late spring or even early summer, not in the fall (as some researchers had suspected).

 

Study of Ötzi's Last Meal (9/17/02)

Scientists at the University of Camerino in Italy analyzed the preserved contents of Ötzi's intestines. They found that he had eaten two meals:

>Ötzi first ate the meat of an ibex (wild goat; Capra ibex) along with some cereal grains (and pollen).

>The pollen found in his intestines indicates that he hiked through "a coniferous forest at mid-elevation." This is most likely the site where he ate his ibex meal.

>At a higher altitude he ate another meal: red deer (Cervus elaphus) and more grain. (For information about the final route that Ötzi took, follow this link.)

Results of the study were published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

 

Study of the Mosses in Ötzi's Intestines (12/1/08)

Professor James Dickson from the University of Glasgow and other scientists studied the mosses found in the Iceman's intestines. Altogether they located 36 samples of six different mosses in five areas of his intestinal tract (the ileum, three areas of the colon, and the rectum); researchers concluded that all of the mosses were apparently accidentally ingested. 

Four of the six mosses are particularly important, according to the researchers, in terms of understanding the last days of Ötzi's life. The four important mosses are:

Neckera complanata. (21/36 samples) This fan moss  was found in every sample analyzed by the researchers, leading them to believe that it was used to wrap his food. According to their interpretation, the moss was too prevalent to have been ingested with drinking water. Therefore, they believe that it was used to wrap at least three of Ötzi's final meals.

Anomodon viticulosus. (3/36 samples) This rough mat moss was most likely picked up by the Iceman as he collected the Nekera, since they often grow side by side on rocks.

Hymenostylium recurvirostrum. (8/36 samples) This tall turf and large cushion moss was most likely ingested with some water as he drank from a stream. Since all eight samples were found only in the Iceman's rectum (and since this moss is not located in the area where the body was found), researchers believe that he ingested the moss with some drinking water at least a day before he died, at a lower altitude.

Sphagnum imbricatum. (1/36 sample) Most likely used to dress a wound (his hand, perhaps) and then ingested accidentally (and microscopically) when he ate one of his last meals (Dickson suggests that the moss could have stuck to dried blood from the wound on Ötzi's hand), this moss is found in bogs. Today no bogs can be found within thirty miles of the Iceman's findspot, leading researchers to conclude that he must have covered a lot of ground in his travels. Dickson et al write: "If this is true then the implication is that either or both of the wounds happened at low to only moderate altitude but not in lower Schnalstal where no species of bogmoss is known."

The results of the study were published in Vegetation History and Archaeobotany. An abstract is located here.

 

SOURCES: pnas.org 9/02, springerlink.com 12/08

 

 

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