Otzi the ice man ate quite well before being killed 5000 years ago

Just two hours before being killed some 5,300 years ago, Otzi, known as the Iceman, ate some juicy sandwiches: dried ibex meat and fat, red deer, einkorn wheat, and traces of toxic fern, according to a recent study published in Current Biology.

It is unknown why Otzi ate the toxic fern, known as fern eagle ( Pteridium aquilinum ). But it is possible that he used this plant to wrap his food, like any piece of plastic wrap, to then ingest toxic spores without intention, according to the authors of the work, of the Eurac Research Institute of Mummy Studies in Bolzano, Italy.

Otzi the ice man ate quite well before being killed 5000 years ago

Or maybe Otzi ate the fern as a type of medicine to treat his intestinal parasites. “It seemed that he ate the fern with some regularity, which would make it more likely to be a kind of medicine,” said Albert Zink, director of the institute.

The work comes from the first in-depth study of the stomach of the ice man’s mummy, the latter found by German hikers in the Italian Alps in 1991. Since then, scientists have examined Otzi, discovering details about his life by studying his remains and belongings. For example, it was known that he had about 61 tattoos, had arthritis, bad teeth and a possible case of Lyme disease. It was also known that he had sharpened his tools days before his murder.

The diet of the ice man, however, remained evasive. Previous analyzes had checked Otzi’s insides, long and small, but only recently Otzi was checked by a CT scan. Until then, he did not know where his stomach was.

A diet high in fat

Otzi the ice man ate quite well before being killed 5000 years ago

The recent scan reveals that Otzi’s stomach had moved upwards during the process of mummification. After an analysis of stomach contents, the scientists discovered that the Iceman’s diet was high in fat, but it was not cheese, as was supposed to date. The fat came from the animal Otzi had recently consumed: most likely a mountain goat.

Otzi the ice man ate quite well before being killed 5000 years ago
A tiny piece of undigested plant tissue researchers spotted in the Iceman’s stomach contents.

This finding makes sense as it is known that Otzi suffered from lactose intolerance, and had problems eating dairy products. Man most likely needed the calories from these high-fat delicacies in order to climb the Alps, where he lived.

The high and cold climate is particularly hard for human physiology and requires good nutritional inputs to avoid famine and loss of energy. Otzi, it seems, was well aware of how important a high-fat diet was.

On the other hand, there is no way to know if the meat you ate was fresh or dry. This would have been ingested between 30 minutes and 2 hours before an ambush ended his life.

Zink’s team now plans to study Otzi’s microbiome. Since the ice man did not eat processed foods, we will try to reconstruct that microbiome in the most complete way possible and compare it to that of current people to see how the life of bacteria within humans has changed over thousands of years .