Eleven years after the 5,000-year-old Tyrolean Iceman was found frozen in the Italian Alps, scientists have determined what he ate for his last meals. Previous studies found a stone arrowhead lodged in his left shoulder, which implied a violent confrontation preceded his death. Now findings published online this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggest that this Late Neolithic individual dined on grains, venison and ibex meat in the days before his demise.
Although the Iceman, dubbed tzi, is kept in cold storage in a museum in Italy, investigators temporarily defrosted the corpse (see image) in September 2000. In the new work, Franco Rollo of the Universita di Camerino and his colleagues analyzed DNA samples collected from tzi's intestines. In addition to the food remains, the team found pollen and fungi, which provide clues to tzi's surroundings at the time of his death. According to the report, "The last journey of the warrior/hunter was made through a coniferous woodland at an intermediate altitude, where he possibly had a first meal, composed of cereals, other plant food, and ibex meat." His last supper before dying in a rocky basin more than 3,200 meters above sea level, the authors conclude, included red deer meat and probably more cereals.
Brenda Fowler's Iceman: Uncovering the Life and Times of a Prehistoric Man Found in an Alpine Glacier (Random House, New York) is available for purchase at the Scientific American Bookstore.