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An analysis of samples taken from the Iceman’s stomach has revealed new details about what people were eating thousands of years ago!

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You ever just wonder what people ate thousands of years ago? Well, the world’s most famous ‘ice mummy,’ known as Ötzi or the Iceman, may give us a more detailed answer than ever before.

The Iceman has fascinated archeologists for nearly 30 years. Hikers trekking through the Ötztal Alps in Italy discovered the mummy in 1991. And he turned out to be some 5,300 years old, dating to the later part of the Neolithic, or New Stone Age.

Since then, scientists have pieced together his mysterious life… and his death, which was probably a homicide involving an arrow to the shoulder, and a head wound as the final blow. But an ongoing point of fascination has been this mummy’s tummy. Bits of information about Ötzi’s diet have trickled out over the years, but a report published yesterday in Current Biology contains the most in-depth information we have.

Archeologists have come up with a variety of methods to learn about the food habits of our ancestors. They can look at isotopes in hair and bone samples to see whether people were vegetarians or omnivores. They can investigate residues left over in clay pots, which might indicate whether there was milk inside, for example.

Or they can study other tools and guess how they might have been used to prepare food. But all of these analyses can’t give a complete picture of a Neolithic meal:. What was on the menu, how much did people eat, and how was it prepared?

That’s where the Iceman comes in, and offers scientists a unique opportunity. He’s one of the best preserved mummies out there. And because he’s a natural mummy, his internal organs weren’t removed.

The only problem was, at first, researchers couldn’t find his stomach and assumed it was empty. But after a decade of study, some x-rays finally revealed a completely full stomach one that had moved up in his body after he died, making it harder to identify. For this study, researchers at the Institute for Mummy Studies in Italy yes, that’s a thing took 11 samples from the Iceman’s gastrointestinal tract, including the stomach.

They used what they call a multi-omics approach to make sense of the material, which means they tried to take stock of all of the biomolecules present the metabolites, proteins, lipids, and DNA. In many cases, this meant running the mummy samples through mass spectrometers, machines that can sort out molecules based on their mass and charge to identify them. But they used other techniques too.

This revealed that Ötzi ate meat shortly before his death, specifically red deer and ibex, as well as whole wheat seeds, but probably no milk or cheese. Whether on purpose or by contamination, toxic fern bits were in the mix, too. A lot of this was consistent with previous work.

But there were a few surprises with this new study, including the sheer amount of fat in Ötzi’s stomach. Nearly half of the contents were fat residues, most of which had long carbon chains that are typical in ibex. The scientists weren’t expecting so much fat, but it kind of makes sense.

A guy hiking across the Alps at extreme elevation would have needed a lot of calories. And fatty goat meat will do the trick. But the most amazing piece of food-based detective work was figuring out how that ibex meat was prepared and it could’ve been some good ol’ jerky.

The scientists found intact animal muscle fibers in the Iceman’s stomach. And under a high-powered microscope, they could still see individual sarcomeres, the basic unit of muscle tissue that repeat in such a way that they basically look like stripes. For comparison, the team used the same microscope to image some raw lamb meat and lamb they had fried or air dried.

The cooked meat didn’t have striations anymore, which means there’s a good chance the Iceman’s food was fresh or dried when he ate it. Researchers had previously found charcoal particles in the Iceman’s intestines, so they had assumed the meat he ate was cooked. But now we think he might have used charcoal to help dry out the meat maybe by adding just a bit of heat.

So he may have been perfecting convenient hiking snacks 5,000-plus-years ago! Step aside, Oberto. The researchers are pretty impressed with the Iceman’s diet it had a mix of nutrients, including protein, fat, and carbs, plus plenty of essential minerals.

He clearly wasn’t starving, which is one of your basic goals if you’re out trekking through the mountains. But it’s worth pointing out that eating a lot of saturated fat can increase your risk of coronary artery disease, which is when fatty deposits build up in the main blood vessels of the heart. That can ultimately limit blood flow, which is not a good thing.

And in fact, previous scans of Ötzi showed that at 46 years old, his arteries were already full of those fatty plaques. That doesn’t necessarily mean it was all his diet, other things like genetics can factor in, but you might want to pause before taking nutritional advice from a mummy. In any case, it’s pretty wild we can say anything specific at all about what one person ate more than 5,000 years ago.

It’s a testament to scientific advancement and to the incredible circumstances surrounding Ötzi’s life and death that we know such detailed information about the past. Thanks to SR Foxley, our Patreon President of Space, for making this video possible. And thank you for watching and learning with us here at SciShow! [♩OUTRO].