Iceman: Dressed to Kill

By Gemma Tarlach | August 18, 2016 8:00 am
From the Iceman cometh much research: the latest study on the xx year-old mummy reveals his clothing came from xxxxx. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

From the Iceman cometh much research: The latest study on the 5,300 year-old mummy reveals his clothing came from a variety of animals. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Ötzi the Iceman is the gift that keeps giving. The 5,300 year-old mummy has been the focus of more than a thousand published papers since his discovery in the Italian Alps in 1991. Scientists have analyzed his wounds, his gut contents, his tattoos and even his preserved red blood cells. And today, researchers reveal the animal origins of his kit and kicks.

Turns out our man Ötzi wouldn’t wear just any old thing: He was rocking a haute (altitude) couture ensemble made from several different animals, which gives us insight into the functional fashion mindset of alpine Neolithic cultures.

What every well-dressed Copper Age man wore, from top left, a leather exterior/grass interior shoe, leather coat, leather loincloth, grass coat, fur hat and leather leggings. Credit: Institute for Mummies and the Iceman

What every well-dressed Copper Age man wore: top row, from left, a leather exterior/grass interior shoe and leather coat; bottom row: leather loincloth, grass coat, fur hat and leather leggings. Credit: Institute for Mummies and the Iceman.

More Leather Than at a Judas Priest Concert

By sequencing mitochondrial DNA extracted from nine fragments of the Iceman’s clothing, researchers were able to determine the species of origin. His fabulous furry hat, for example, came from a brown bear, while his quiver leather was from a roe deer. Both are wild species, suggesting Ötzi, or someone in his circles, hunted. That could be another arrow (ouch) to the theory that he was a shepherd, which has come under increasing fire.

However, the new research also found that Ötzi’s leggings and part of his coat were made of goat leather. His shoelaces were bovine in origin, and his loincloth and parts of his coat came from sheep. Material from three domesticated animals in his wardrobe hints that it may be too soon to close the barn door on the pastoralist theory.

The Iceman traveled with (from left to right) a stone dagger, bows, leather quiver, tinder fungus, birch fungus and birch bark. Credit: Institute for Mummies and the Iceman

The Iceman traveled with (from left) a stone dagger, arrows, a roe deer leather quiver, fungus used for tinder (not that Tinder), birch fungus and birch bark. Credit: Institute for Mummies and the Iceman

The study, published today in Scientific Reports, tells us about the species of animals in Ötzi’s environment but also suggests his culture was choosy about materials, and selected specific hides for specific purposes, much the way modern manufacturers use different textiles for, say, yoga pants (sleek and stretchy!) and cargo shorts (uhm, for whatever they’re supposed to be good for).

A tip of the fedora to Ötzi, who was on-trend for his time and made the most of the resources available to him to hit the Alps in warm, breathable, natural materials in an earthy yet stylish palette.

A reconstruction of Otzi the Iceman suggests a man confident in his skin. And in his skins. Credit: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology.

A catwalk-ready reconstruction of Ötzi the Iceman suggests a man confident in his skin. And in his skins. Credit: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology.

Coming Soon: Neolithic Vogue

Today’s study represents a big step forward for analyzing leather and other materials associated with ancient remains. Other researchers have attempted to identify the species by studying samples of keratin, a protein found in hair, with mixed results. Previous attempts based on ancient DNA extraction yielded little or no conclusive findings because the hide animal’s genetic material had been destroyed in the leather-making process or contaminated by material from other animals.

The success in determining species that make up Ötzi’s fetching fashion means researchers have a reliable method for analyzing other prehistoric material. And that could mean the Iceman is just the tip of the spear in advancing our understanding of who wore what how back in the day.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
  • 1940voter

    How many more like Otzi are waiting to be discovered? How many of Hannibal’s troops are buried in ice and waiting to be found.?

  • Uncle Al

    Alps,or San Francisco, the man about town is tasteful and attractive. If you want grant funding, you must build a narrative pandering to the funder. One wonders that happened to his jacket, for glaciers are cold.

    • BillR

      Perhaps the fellow (or gal) who whacked him got off with it. A pity to die violently in an age of peaceful goddess worship, eh?

  • Starling

    Ötzi was killed by an arrow to his shoulder and a blow to his head while he was eating a meal. I know it’s been 5,300 years, but he was a living, breathing person at one point. Reverence would be more appropriate than bad humor and cheap Tinder jokes when telling Ötzi’s story.

    • Kelly Smith

      I think the internet is the wrong place to go looking for reverence.

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  • Feenie Mac

    This has to be one of the most atrocious pieces of science journalism I’ve read. Somehow you need to squeeze in references to Judas Priest, yoga pants, fedoras, and Tinder into one short new research piece? Even a Gawker editor would be like ‘try to have a little respect’.

  • Leonor G Arango

    I love when a Neolithic person or animal comes too light that they had a safistivation and use of tools, dress, and other natural man’s traits.

    This brings again to light the fact that there is so much we do not know and have thus made ourselves the superior race.

    I say go build a pyramid and let it stand 2000 plus years, or the Nesta Lines and how this community never starved. The Aztec even tough very violent, the edifices are still there, the Mayan were expert astronomers.
    And so many other cultures we have not even discovered. The Natives of the Grand Cayan.

    It is endless and most remarkable.
    Thank you .

  • OWilson

    Love the reconstruction.

    He looks like a cheap Niagara Falls wax job modeled on an old Brad Pitt movie.

    The defiant stare, “a man, confident in his own skin”. The nonsense.

    In truth, an amazing rare find, of an individual on the very edge of brutal survival, he was armed to the teeth, with that era’s equivalent of an assault rifle, which would have had the Hollywood crowd with their panties in a knot.

    He never made it home. He succumbed to the “nature raw, in tooth and claw”.

    God help our schoolchildren!

    • BillR

      He actually succumbed to his fellow humans, red in club and swift in arrow. Other animals than humans would have surely eaten him. His human killer was also part of nature, of course.

      • OWilson

        Not much advancement in the human condition in 5,000 years.

        Half the world still wants to kill the other half!

        • Vasboz

          Hahaha… that is funny, but also very sad and tragic at the same time… All we need in the end is love. Greed is what I would blame for everything going on in today’s civilizations.

  • nik

    Looks like Billy Connolly.

  • billmichael

    O.K. So, when are they going to re-create him from his DNA…???

  • cgosling

    I saw him in the locker room yesterday. I looked in the mirror, and he was me.

  • John Do’h

    Maybe the author is over simplifying the hunter versus shepherd “argument” but I would think it is a safe assumption that the diverse items he carried are evidence of human society… he could have traded for any of the items, or received them from his family. He didn’t have to kill a bear to get a bear hat. Or he could have killed 50 bears and traded them for cow and goat leather items.

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