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Otzi The Iceman’s Wardrobe Was Made Of Fur And Leather

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Ötzi the Iceman, a 5,300-year-old human mummy and Europe’s oldest specimen, seems to have worn quite a variety of animal hides when he was alive, new research suggests.

Ötzi, nicknamed for his discovery in the Ötztal Alps in Italy, is known for the incredible preservation his body was in when he was found. The Iceman was fully clothed in layers and had personal belongings with him, all of which gave archaeologists a rare opportunity to study an ancient way of life.

According to the new study, his wardrobe included brown bear hats, roe deer quivers, goat leather leggings and jackets made from sheep hides, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Scientists have pegged Ötzi to be 45 years old at the time of his death, and believe an arrow wound killed him. Shortly after he died, his body was buried in snow, which kept it from being ravaged by predators or decomposing normally. His remains were frozen until 1991 when German tourists saw his face-down body coming up from melting ice.

Niall O’Sullivan from the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman at the European Academy of Bozen/Bolzano (EURAC) in Italy says, “The Iceman’s preservation was a fluke. It required a very specific set of circumstances to preserve him.”

Since his discovery 25 years ago, there have been many studies that have revealed details on Ötzi and his life, including a DNA analysis that reported he was lactose intolerant and had a high risk for cardiovascular diseases. Even his intestines have been dissected, showing that his last meal was red deer and bread and that he had eaten it in the summer.

Prior studies had looked into how the Iceman’s clothes were made and had given some information on what materials were used, but the researchers on this recent study wanted to find out more. They wrote,

Preserved leathers provide rare and valuable information into how ancient populations utilized the secondary products of animal husbandry.

To maximize the information that could be culled from the ancient clothing, the authors decided on a complete characterization — a feat that was not easy.

The tanning processes for leather 5,000 years ago may have used scraping, exposure to fatty acids, likely extreme heating and stripping the hides of grain patterns and other distinct markers of their source.

The researchers rose to the challenge by using what old studies did not have: an abundance of advanced technology. They turned to a new sequencing approach that let them reconstruct the mitochondrial DNA of many of the animals used in making the Iceman’s clothes. With this, they were able to identify all samples tested.

The test results revealed that Ötzi’s assorted items of clothing came from five different animals: cow leather on the shoelaces, sheepskin on the loincloth, goat leather on the leggings. The hat was bear skin with the furry, warm part inside, quiver made of red roe deer hide. His coat was the most complex of all, sewn from four hides of both goats and sheep.

A pair of leggings in Switzerland dating back to 4,500 years ago was likewise made of goat skin, suggesting that the people of the Copper Age preferred the flexibility and softness of goat leather, the researchers noted.

Albert Zinc, the senior author of the study and head of the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman said their work shows that comfort and functionality were both considered in making clothes 5,000 years ago.

The study was published in Scientific Reports.

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