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Do the Clothes Make the Man?

By Carl Feagans     Aug 27, 2008 in Science
Oetzi may not have been a mummified, prehistoric hunter but, rather, a mummified, prehistoric herdsman. A new study on Oetzi's clothes reveal that they were made with the hairs of cattle and sheep.
Oetzi, the famous "Iceman" found in 1991 by two German tourists hiking in Austria, was dressed in clothing made from sheep and cattle hair according to researchers who reported their findings in the September issue of the journal Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry.
Last year, two other research teams, working independently, confirmed the nature of Ötzi's death as well as where he traveled in the last few days of his life and what he ate. The two teams examined his physical remains and forensic details, revealing that the Iceman had eaten two different types of meat and pollen analysis showed that he had traveled from the highlands to the lowlands and back before dying in the cold Tissen Pass where his body would be discovered over 5,000 years later.
What killed Oetzi was a stone projectile point -an arrowhead, which penetrated an artery. He likely bled to death after attempting to remove the point in the Tissen Pass and was then consumed in 3300 BCE by the glacier which preserved his body until releasing it for discovery in 1991.
The more recent research was done on Oetzi's clothing using mass spectrometry, which essentially measures the molecular mass of the sample. In this case, the sample was bombarded by a laser which released ions. Some of the ions, the lighter ones, are faster and some, the heavier ones, are slower. This sort of analysis helps reveal to the researchers heavy molecules like proteins and peptides, which allowed them to match the data up with that already collected on known animals. Thus, the researchers have a good idea what animals contributed to the clothing worn by a man who lived over 5,000 years ago: cows and sheep.
What the researchers found significant was the new method of examining biological samples that are over 5,300 years old, an endeavor they called "very difficult." But for anyone that has followed the news of the iceman, Oetzi, since 1991, this is the sort of research that helps to humanize him and make us wonder who he was and what sort of life he lived.
More about Oetzi, Iceman, Archaeology