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Prof James Dickson
This is not the last word on Oetzi
 real 28k

Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 11:40 GMT
Iceman keeps scientists guessing
Oetzi BBC
Oetzi was discovered by German tourists in 1991
Scientists say they have been unable to establish a definitive cause of death for the Stone Age man dubbed Oetzi.

His 5,300-year-old corpse, which was found frozen in ice high in the Alps on the border between Italy and Austria, has been the subject of almost a decade of study.

If you are going to say that Oetzi was a vegetarian, or even more so a vegan, he evidently gave up his principles in the last few days of his life

Prof James Dickson
But in a report released through the British scientific academy the Royal Society, researchers admitted there was still no clear evidence as to how Oetzi met his fate.

However, they said, the assumption remained that Oetzi died from the cold after being caught in bad weather in the mountains.

The iceman was discovered by German tourists in 1991 in the Oetz Valley still wearing goatskin leggings and a grass cape. His copper-headed axe and a quiver full of arrows were lying nearby. Oetzi is the best-preserved example we have of Stone Age man.

Colon contents

A research paper published in the latest issue of the society's Philosophical Transactions B reveals that Oetzi ate meat.

Analysis of a tiny fragment of food residue in the iceman's colon contained muscle fibres that most likely came from a mountain goat called an ibex.

"The fragments of muscle fibres found in the iceman's colon confirm that he did consume animal protein, and the finding of small bone splinters beside him make it likely that the alpine ibex formed part of his diet," said Professor James Dickson of the University of Glasgow, UK.

The finding debunks previous research which claimed Oetzi was a vegetarian, based on the ratio of different forms, or isotopes, of nitrogen atoms found in the frozen man's hair. The ratios were said to be comparable to the bodies of modern-day vegans.

"If you are going to say that Oetzi was a vegetarian, or even more so a vegan, he evidently gave up his principles in the last few days of his life," Professor Dickson told the BBC.

Changing view

The research team, which was co-led by Professor Klaus Oeggl of Innsbruck University, Austria, confirms that Oetzi was about 159 cm (five feet, 2.5 inches) tall, 46 years old, arthritic, and infested with whipworm.

He had also been seriously ill three times in the last several months of his life. High levels of copper and arsenic in his hair indicate that he had been involved in copper smelting. He wore three layers of garments made from goat, deerskin and bark fibre. He had well-made shoes and a bearskin hat.

It is believed he belonged to an agricultural community based on the cereal grains found not just on his garments but recovered from his colon which contained bran of the primitive wheat Einkorn.

Professor Dickson said there was much more to learn, and many more surprises, to come from Oetzi.

He told the BBC: "From the colon contents we now think he died in the late-spring-early-summer, and not in the autumn. The initial idea was that he got caught in a snow storm in the autumn and died as a result."

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17 Jan 98 | Sci/Tech
Italy's iceman comes home
28 Mar 98 | Despatches
Italian iceman goes on show
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