Archaeology

Skins of 5 Different Animals Found on Ice Mummy

Ötzi, the5,300-year-old ice mummy found in the Italian Alps, wore skins from bear, dear, cow, sheep and goat.

Ötzi, a 5,300-year-old naturally mummified man, was wearing leather from five different animals when he died and froze in the Italian Ötztal Alps, new research finds.

The leather -- used in the Tyrolean Iceman's clothing, shoes and quiver (bag for holding arrows) -- suggests that Ötzi came from a farming community that raised livestock, but spent at least some of his time hunting and trapping wild animals.

"Two wild species were observed in his clothing that indicate this: bear and roe deer," Niall O'Sullivan, a doctoral student at University College Dublin's School of Archaeology and a researcher at the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy, told Discovery News.

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O'Sullivan is the lead author of a paper outlining the new research, published in the journal Scientific Reports.

He and his team sequenced the mitochondrial (maternally inherited) genomes of nine fragments of leather from Ötzi's quiver and attire. The Iceman's shoelaces were made from cow leather. Sheep leather was used to make his loincloth. His quiver was made from leather originating from a roe deer of Central European heritage. Ötzi's leggings were constructed out of goatskin. His coat was made from both sheep and goatskin. Brown bear leather was used to form the Iceman's hat.

As for why so many different animals contributed to the materials, O'Sullivan explained, "He used what was available to him at the time."

The sheep, goat and cattle DNA reveal that these animals were related or belonged to domesticated stock.

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O'Sullivan says that "domestication began in Europe 5,000 years earlier. The haplogroups (genetic groupings) are the same as those animals associated with the origin of domestics."

This finding adds to the growing body of evidence that Ötzi, who was about 45 when he died, came from a community that included agro-pastoralists -- people who farmed and raised animals. The Iceman's last meal, which he ate one-half to two hours before his death, consisted of alpine ibex, a European wild goat. Based on fecal material extracted from his bowels, the Iceman had eaten cereal and red deer meat sometime before the ibex feast.

"His last meal was therefore not (from) the same source as his clothing," O'Sullivan said. "We did not observe red deer or ibex leather."

The goatskin leggings provide an important clue about prehistoric clothing construction, he added.

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Angela Schlumbaum of the University of Basel and colleagues previously discovered a Neolithic leather legging from the Schnidejoch mountain pass in the Swiss Alps. Analysis determined that the legging was made from the skin of a domestic goat that lived about 4,500 years ago.

Given the similarities, O'Sullivan and his colleagues suspect that early populations, at least in the Alpine region, selected particular animal species for specific attributes when making clothing.

An exception perhaps was Ötzi's coat, which was made from a combination of at least four goat and sheep hides.

"This result may indicate a haphazard stitching together of clothing based upon materials that were available to the Iceman, as ancient rudimentary leather is posited to rapidly deteriorate after manufacture," the authors wrote.

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It's clear that Ötzi was the ultimate self-made man, dressed and equipped for wilderness survival with items that he likely made himself. His gear included a stone dagger, bows and the leather quiver.

What's less certain is if his clothing held any symbolic meaning beyond its primary purpose. Prior research may again provide clues.

Maria Anna Pabst, formerly of the Medical University of Graz, has also extensively studied Ötzi, focusing more on his body. She and her team analyzed tattoos on his skin that they believe had little if anything to do with decoration or symbolism.

"We think that the Tyrolean Iceman was tattooed for therapeutic purposes," she told Discovery News, explaining that the technique was likely similar to acupuncture.

Whatever pains the possible treatment might have been trying to soothe, it did not save the Iceman from what appears to have been a painful death. Protein analysis of Ötzi's brain tissue found that he probably suffered a head injury before his demise in the Alps. He was also found to have had joint problems, heart disease, bad teeth and maybe even Lyme disease.

SEE PHOTOS BELOW:

Reconstructions of Ötzi the Iceman might have to be revised, given the new findings about his leather clothing.

Photo: Recreation of Ötzi, a 5,300-year-old male found naturally mummified and frozen in the Italian Alps. Credit: Thilo Parg, Wikimedia Commons

The Iceman's clothing and quiver were made from the skins of five different types of animals.

Photo: Recreation at the South Tyrol Museum. Credit: Wolfgang Sauber, Wikimedia Commons

The new study indicates that the leather was processed, perhaps by scraping, tanning and heating. By definition, leather is a material made from the skin of an animal by tanning or a similar process. Fur was not always removed from the hides, however, adding to the clothing's durability and warmth.

Photo: A replica of the clothes worn by Ötzi the Iceman made for the documentary film "Der Ötztal-Mann und seine Welt" ("Ötzi: The Man and His World"). Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Recreations such as this that depict Ötzi's shoes may require revising, since new research finds the Iceman's shoes had cow leather laces.

Photo: Replica of one of Ötzi's shoes created by Petr Hlaváček and Václav Gřešák. Credit: Josef Chlachula, Wikimedia Commons

Although Ötzi was just 45 years old when he died, probably from internal bleeding resulting from a head wound, the Iceman had a multitude of chronic health problems including rotted out teeth, heart disease, and joint issues.

Photo: Reconstruction of the Iceman. Credit: Adrie and Alfons Kennis, South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, Foto Ochsenreiter

Tattoos were found on various parts of Ötzi's body. Researchers believe that they were associated with acupuncture-like medical therapies, and may not have had visual symbolic meaning.

Photo: Tattoos on Ötzi's body. Credit: Leopold Dorfer

The assemblage of equipment associated with the Iceman as displayed at the Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy, includes from left to right: stone dagger, bows, leather quiver, tinder fungus, birch fungus and birch bark.

Photo: Objects found with Ötzi. Credit: Institute for Mummies and the Iceman