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Monday, 16 September, 2002, 21:31 GMT 22:31 UK
Iceman's final meal
Oetzi, AP
The body is an extraordinary "window" on the Stone Age
The last two meals eaten by the 5,300-year-old iceman, dubbed Oetzi, have been revealed by scientists.

Analysis of the contents of the Stone Age human's intestines shows he probably dined on venison just before his death, having previously consumed cereals, plants, and ibex meat.

Oetzi's mummified remains emerged from a melting glacier in the Italian Alps in 1991, since when he has undergone intense examination.

Scientists recently discovered a flint arrowhead lodged in the ancient man's back and a deep wound in his right hand, supporting the theory that Oetzi died following a violent confrontation.

Cold storage

The iceman represents one of the great archaeological finds of the last 25 years.

His body was discovered by German tourists trekking in the Oetz Valley - hence the name - still wearing goatskin leggings and a grass cape. His copper-headed axe and a quiver full of arrows were lying nearby.

Arrowhead, BBC
Researchers have even built a replica of the arrowhead in his shoulder
After a diplomatic dispute between the Austrian and the Italian authorities, the body was finally transferred to the South Tyrol Archaeological Museum in Bolzano, where it is now kept in cold storage.

Two years ago, the remains were briefly defrosted to allow researchers to retrieve and analyse items, such as pollen and cereal grains, taken from inside the body.

The resulting data have been combined to build up a picture of Oetzi's lifestyle and final movements and now his last meals.

First and second

Franco Rollo, at the University of Camerino, and colleagues examined the DNA from the contents of the intestines, some of which represented the trace remains of food, but also other material, such as fungi, which invaded the body after death.

"It was very difficult," he told BBC New Online. "The whole thing took us two years. There were only very tiny fragments of DNA and they were very degraded."

The results have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team writes: "According to the present DNA analysis, the last journey of the warrior/hunter was made through a coniferous woodland at an intermediate altitude, where he possibly had a first meal, composed of cereals, other plant food, and ibex meat, and ended with his death in a rocky basin at over 3,200 metres above sea level, not before his having had a further meal based on red deer meat and, possibly, cereals."

Dr Rollo added: "We were very impressed by the quality of the meals he had. The diet of people living at this time included rabbit, rats, squirrel - all sorts of things. But the iceman, in his last two meals, had red deer and ibex meat. It was a real medieval banquet!"

Primitive wheat

Scientists have already established that Oetzi was about 159 centimetres (five feet, 2.5 inches) tall, 46 years old, arthritic, and infested with whipworm at the time of death.

High levels of copper and arsenic in his hair indicate 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.

The presence in the body of pollen from the hophornbeam tree, which flowers in the Alps between March and June, indicates Oetzi died in the spring or early summer.

The wound in the hand suggests Oetzi may have been engaged in hand-to-hand combat very shortly before he died.

The injury to the back of the shoulder has led some researchers to the view that Oetzi was shot as he fled the confrontation.

See also:

07 Feb 02 | Science/Nature
26 Jul 01 | Science/Nature
19 Dec 00 | Science/Nature
25 Sep 00 | Europe
17 Jan 98 | Science/Nature
28 Mar 98 | Despatches
20 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
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