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5,000-year-old Iceman found in Italian Alps had goat meat before death

June 24, 2011 - Washington

Scientists studying the remains of a 5,000-year-old mummy known as the Iceman have found that he had goat meat less than two hours before his death.

The frozen body of "Otzi" the Copper Age hunter had been discovered in 1991 in the Alps of northern Italy, but the nature of his death was not fully known.

The most popular theory, based in part on the discovery of an arrowhead in his back, is that he was murdered by other hunters while fleeing through the mountains.

Scientists previously analysed the contents of Otzi's lower intestine and determined that he ate a meal of grains along with possibly cooked red deer and goat meat up to 30 hours before his death.

But attempts using an endoscopic tool to sample Otzi's stomach were unsuccessful.

The reason for the failure became clear in 2009, when scientists studying CAT scans of Otzi discovered that the Iceman's stomach had shifted upward after death, to where the lower part of his lungs would normally be.

"Why it moved upward, we don't know," National Geographic News quoted Frank Maixner, a microbiologist at the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy, who was involved in the new investigation, as saying.

The team found the stomach by examining other associated organs, which had maintained their relative positions to one another when they shifted.

As a result of the natural mummification process, Otzi's stomach had shrunk considerably, but the researchers were able to get sample of its contents, which, like the intestines, contained evidence of meat and wheat grains.

What's more, the state of the partially digested food suggests the Iceman ate a substantial meal less than two hours before his death.

"The stomach content is yellowish to brownish coloured and mushy, with some bigger pieces of meat and grain," Maixner said.

DNA analysis of the meat showed that it came from an ibex, a wild goat species whose males have large, backward-curving horns.

Ibex would have been much more common in Otzi's day and would have been a good source of meat for hunters.

According to past studies, such a distance would have been just within range of the bow and arrows that were found with Otzi, he added.


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