This photograph was taken during the stomach content sampling campaign in November 2010 in Bolzano, Italy.

Researchers analysed samples from the Alpine Iceman’s stomach to profile his nutrient intake. Credit: South Tyrol Archaeology Museum\Eurac\M. Samadelli

Metabolism

The Iceman’s fat-laden final meals

The prehistoric mountaineer ‘Ötzi’ consumed a calorie-rich repast before his death.

Before he died with a flint arrowhead in his back, the prehistoric traveller known as Ötzi the Iceman dined heartily on a high-fat diet of wild meats and whole grains.

When Ötzi’s 5,300-year-old corpse was discovered high in the Tyrolean Alps on the Austria–Italy border, he had a full stomach. To determine the makeup of his final meals, Frank Maixner and Albert Zink at the Eurac Research Institute for Mummy Studies in Bolzano, Italy, analysed DNA, protein, fat and other nutrients in Ötzi’s stomach contents.

His stomach contained DNA from red deer, the wild goat called the ibex, wheat and, curiously, a type of fern called bracken, which may have been used to wrap the other foods. Protein analysis suggested that Ötzi’s last meal included wheat seeds and ibex meat. His final mouthfuls also contained a high proportion of meat fats, an excellent source of energy for a man who was himself extremely lean.