He probably didn’t know it was going to be his last meal, but Otzi the Iceman’s final feast was filled with fatty goodness.
That’s according to a study that reconstructed what was in the 5,300-year-old European glacier mummy’s stomach when he died.
The Iceman’s body was preserved in ice until it was discovered by a couple hiking in the North Italian Alps in 1991. Since then, scientists have learned many things about his life from the clothes he wore and the weapons he used.
A radiological re-examination of the Iceman showed that he had a completely full stomach when he died. He had a well-balanced last supper, including carbohydrates, proteins and lipids – perfect for high-altitude trekking, according to the study.
The study showed a remarkably high proportion of fat in his diet, as well as wild meat, cereals and traces of toxic bracken. Frank Maixner, lead author and microbiologist at the Institute for Mummy Studies in Italy, said the meat was likely uncooked and dried.
Maixner said they were lucky that so much of what was in Otzi’s stomach was preserved, and he was surprised to see that the content was around 40% fat.
“I think it’s a fascinating finding,” he said. “The pure fascination of what is left, what you can still recognize.”
The study says that though researchers have looked at major dietary changes during the Neolithic period before, this study may be the first to provide insight into how and what people ate daily.
Justyna Miszkiewicz, a lecturer in biological anthropology at The Australian National University, said it’s really rare for a set of human remains to be so well preserved that scientists can retrieve biomolecules from its stomach.
“These findings are of huge importance to the study of the past of humanity as they let us understand that the Iceman made good use of fat, meat, and cereals in a cold and high-altitude environment – testament to the adaptability of the human species,” she said.
She added that the study also shows just how much has advanced in terms of scientific approaches to studying ancient people.