Iceman’s stomach contents give a glimpse of what people ate in Copper Age
Researchers could also tell how Otzi prepared his food. (AP: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology)
Researchers have discovered what constituted a meal in the Copper Age by examining the stomach contents of the Iceman mummy.
The ingredients of the Iceman’s last meal were fresh or dried meat from ibex and red deer, einkorn wheat and traces of toxic bracken, a study — led by researchers at the Eurac Research centre based in Bozen-Bolzano in Italy — shows.
The researchers examined the stomach contents, with its pristine and undigested food mix, of the glacier mummy for DNA, proteins, lipids and carbohydrates and found the Iceman — known as Otzi — had feasted on food that was remarkably high in fat, supplemented with fresh or dried wild meat, cereals and toxic bracken.
A reconstruction shows what an Iceman may have looked like. (Supplied: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology)
“Fat has very different characteristics from other substances as it is water repellent. This allowed us to spot the high fat content with the naked eye,” microbiologist Frank Maixner at Eurac Research said.
Further analysis of the lipids showed the fat came from animal meat, more specifically from the fatty tissues of the ibex.
Otzi’s last meal was a balanced mix of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids — fitting for coping with the demands of life in an Alpine region.
“Otzi seems to have been aware of the fact that fats represent an excellent source of energy. The high-Alpine region [3,210 metres] where the Iceman lived and was found some 5,300 years after his death, presents a definite challenge for human physiology,” Dr Maixner said.
“It calls for an optimal supply of nutrients so as to avoid a sudden drop in energy.”
Investigating Otzi’s last meal, researchers could also tell how Copper Age people prepared their food.
The ibex meat in Otzi’s stomach was well preserved — it was evident from the striated meat fibres that this was muscle meat that had been air-dried or minimally heated, potentially to preserve it.
Otzi’s last meal was eaten just 30 minutes to two hours before he died.