July 14, 2018 12:54:53
Researchers have discovered what constituted a meal in the Copper Age by examining the stomach contents of the Iceman mummy.
The Iceman, known as Otzi, was found on September 19, 1991 in the Tyrolean Alps, on the border between Austria and Italy. He lived roughly 5,300 years ago and died on a frozen glacier.
Scientists at the Eurac Research centre in Bozen-Bolzano in Italy were able to determine the exact composition of his diet, when a radiological examination identified Otzi’s completely filled stomach.
This is the first time scientists have been able to fully reconstruct a Copper Age meal. The period is considered to have lasted from about 3500 to 2300 BCE.
Until now, very little information was available on the daily dietary habits of our ancestors. But the researchers were able to decipher the nutritional habit, meal composition and food-processing methods of Otzi.
They said previous analysis had suggested a vegetarian lifestyle, but further examination confirmed the Iceman was feeding on wild animal and plant material.
The ingredients of his last meal were fresh or dried meat from ibex — a type of mountain goat — and red deer, einkorn wheat and traces of toxic bracken, the study shows.
The researchers examined the stomach contents, with its pristine and undigested food mix, for DNA, proteins, lipids and carbohydrates and found he had feasted on food that was remarkably high in fat, supplemented with fresh or dried wild meat, cereals and toxic bracken.
“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.
July 14, 2018 10:53:53