Ötzi used wild, domestic animals for clothes

Hot on the heels of the protein analysis that determined the animal products used to clothe Iron Age mummies, researchers at the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman have discovered new information about Ötzi the Iceman’s couture. The Iceman died and was naturally mummified in the gelid Öztal Alps about 5,300 years ago. The glacier that preserved his body and much of his clothes and accessories isn’t the acidic environment of the Danish peat bogs, but 5,300 years in ice still takes a toll on the structure of leather and fur. Since 1992, researchers have attempted to identify the animal source of the Iceman’s couture by microscopic analysis, peptide analysis of keratin and collagen content, and in 2012, the first genetic analysis extracted mitochondrial DNA from fragments of leather that could not be connected to a specific garment.

A new DNA study has expanded on those earlier studies, taking samples nine samples of leather and hide from the Iceman’s coat, leggings, fur hat, hay-stuffed shoes, loincloth and quiver. They were able to sequence the full mitochondrial genomes of each sample and thus identify the animals from which the materials originated.

The sample from Ötzi’s quiver, which was previously believed to made of chamois leather, was in fact from roe deer hide, although researchers cannot exclude the possibility that the quiver was made from the hide of more than one animal so there could be chamois areas that haven’t been sampled yet. The hat was made from brown bear. The rest of his wardrobe was crafted from domestic animals. A sample from a leather strap on one of the shoes was made from a cattle hide. His leggings, which were thought to be made from wild wolf, fox or dog, were actually made from goat hide. The loincloth, previously believed to have been made from goat hide, was in fact sheep hide. The hide coat was made of a mixture of goat and sheepskin, stitched together from the skins of at least four animals.

The species of goat and sheep are genetically closer to modern domestic sheep than wild ones, which is why researchers believe these were domestic goats and sheep rather than trapped or hunted wild ones. In fact, the species of all the domestic animals — cattle, sheep and goat — used to make the Iceman’s attire are members of haplogroups frequently seen in the same species that live all over Europe today.

That, says [the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman’s Niall] O’Sullivan, shows that while Ötzi was likely to be from an agricultural or herding community, he was an enterprising chap. “It is possible that he might have used his hunting ability to capture and kill a bear, or it [could be] that he came across a dying bear and opportunistically took the skin and used it as leather,” says O’Sullivan. “It shows us that he was opportunistic and resourceful and used to the best of his ability the scarce resources which were available to him in a very harsh environment.”

The iceman, it seems, was also adept at a bit of make do and mend. “The Copper Age neolithic style of making leather was very primitive, clothing would have decomposed and degraded quite quickly under normal circumstances,” says O’Sullivan. “So he had to rapidly change his clothes and he was probably constantly renewing the clothes and augmenting it so that bits didn’t fall apart.”

In addition to the new information about Ötzi and Copper Age clothing revealed by this study, the results have wider implications for future analyses of ancient and prehistoric artifacts. The fact that full mitochondrial genomes were successfully sequenced from samples of degraded skins and furs more than 5,000 years old bodes well for their recovery in other organic archaeological materials.

The full report was published in Scientific Reports and can be read here.

15 thoughts on “Ötzi used wild, domestic animals for clothes

  1. Back then in the Copper Age, even domestic furs seemingly smelled rather ‘wild‘, similar to purple dying on an industrial scale in Cyprus [Κύπρος=Copper] or even modern tanning and furrying.

    Tanning can be performed with either vegetable or mineral methods, and I wonder, therefore, if available ‘bogs’ and their minerals began to play a certain role here.

    PS: Modern day real hunters and gatherers are for example the masses of inner-city red foxes. A friend is a wealthy retired premium furrier, who recently gets regular visits by a certain red fox, unaware about his former profession.

  2. Although it’s always nice to hear news from the Iceman, there is not much in this report that strokes me as stunningly new and there are some things which I find a bit curious. That the cap was made from bear fur, the leggings of goat fur and (part of) the coat of sheepskin has been known for some time already. That the thus used sheep and goat were `domesticated’ isn’t that remarkable, as to my knowledge wild sheep and/or goat were not indigeneous to Europe. Finally, it is a bit stating the obvious to say that “while Ötzi was a farmer, he was also so clever as to keep hunting and make use of the natural resources of his environment.’ In the Middle Neolithic, this was quite simply the thing to do for most European agricultural communities where there was any chance of hunting down game and catching fish. Ötzi’s bow and quiver already made it quite clear that he he was an hunter, although his own demise shows us these arrows were used as man-to-man weapons as well. All in all, some nice new information but with some not-so-new conclusions.

  3. I wouldn’t be surprised if men whose job included protecting flocks and herds from bears wore a bit of bearskin.

    How many spearmen might it take to drive a bear away from a flock, or kill it? I don’t think it’s a job I’d like to try on my own.

  4. Not surprising that he was wearing a zoo. I have no doubt that they used the skins of whatever they had at hand, and was not fussy about it like we modern people would be.

  5. It would be interesting to learn more about how we know that ‘ “The Copper Age neolithic style of making leather was very primitive, clothing would have decomposed and degraded quite quickly under normal circumstances…” ‘.

  6. my own personal theory was that this guy was either an outlaw, or a wanted man, for some reason or another. he was up in the mountains basically trying to escape the people hunting him down. he was unsuccessful obviously and they choose to shoot him and let him bleed out, and then possibly smash him on the head, and just leave his body there. if he wasn’t an common criminal, he was a chieftain whose tribe was probably enslaved but he got away but there was a bounty on his head. there are all sorts of stories in history of the leaders of a local tribe going into exile In the mountains after losing a battle to others. they were generally hunted down like dogs like this unfortunate fella. I’m shocked he even made it to 45 years old.

  7. “Common criminal, outlaw or a wanted man, for some reason or another” :confused:

    My -contrasting- theory is that for an ‘outlaw’ it takes some form of ‘law’ in the first place. That he was ‘not unwanted’ -for some reason or another- seems to hit the point, though.


    He was well equipped, and prior to his death he spent time at an altitude of 2.400m. He descended into what is now Italy, i.e. Schnals- or Etschtal, was at least 24 hours prior to his death involved in a fight, and six hours prior to the attack he went up again.

    One hour prior to his death, he rested and had a rich meal that consisted of an ibex. High levels of both copper particles and arsenic were found in Ötzi’s hair. His state-of-the-art copper axe, therefore, might have been made by himself.

    His yew longbow was an unfinished one, which raises the question how that ibex was killed. He either had at least one companion that killed the ibex for them or a 2nd ready longbow. In theory, he also could have transported large chunks of dead ibex uphill.

    He was shot from behind in his shoulder blade. Seemingly, was then lying on his back and his attacker blew his head and turn the body around (cf. the position of his outstretched arm), then he drew out the arrow, but did not save his valuable flint arrow head.

    In case Ötzi was robbed, he was presumably robbed of something more valuable than the axe. Maybe he was shot with his own 2nd and finished bow, who knows ? The bow he was shot with, however, and the ibex leftovers were taken away from him.

  8. but why ascend into the mountains to attack a lone, heavily armed hunter? they must have known he was there but that’s quite the hike to go rob somebody. why was he living in the mountains by himself at age 45? there’s so many unanswered questions that’s why the simplest answer for me was that he was not being robbed, but rather, he was being hunted. that’s why he was hanging out in the mountains, he was heavily armed, and the fight he engaged in earlier was another party hunting him down. he wasn’t expecting the second party and that’s when he was shot, blugeoned and left for dead. of course this is just a random internet theory but it does seem reasonable and fits the facts.

  9. as far as the law,tribes most definitely had laws. the US jury system is derived from an ancient Germanic tradition of accused criminals presenting their case before other members of the tribe, hence, a rudimentary jury trial trial.

    this could be something even more nefarious, he could have been traitor, he could have committed a terrible crime like sleeping with a elder’s daughter and fled into the mountains. I’m just saying that if I needed to get the heck out of dodge, heading into the mountains heavily armed is probably the first place I’d go. he just underestimated the resolve of the community to hunt him down.

  10. De mortuis nihil nisi bene :skull: – The Neolithic period was seemingly a rather violent one. Thus, he could have been eliminated by the people of his own village. In case he was a chieftain, maybe he was killed by someone who simply wanted to get a promotion. In case of conflict between different groups, however, he either could have been member of a band of attackers (or defenders).

    The copper for his axe allegedly came from beyond the main chain of the Alps in Salzburgerland. To a certain extent, (some) people had surprisingly far-reaching connections, i.e. there were travelers in addition to all the herders, hunters and Average Joes. In 2013, scientists from Innsbruck Medical University found that 19 Tyrolean men alive today are related to Ötzi.

    Indeed, there was certainly some form of organization with clashes of interest, i.e. in addition to tradition and beliefs.

  11. You don’t need vegetables or minerals to tan a hide, nor an acidic bog. Most can be tanned by simply using the animals brain. Natives were still doing it that way in the US until the latter parts of the 19th century.

    I knew a fellow who still did it the traditional way for special customers, pow-wow’s, re-enactors etc… until the mid-1980’s.

    We have a major problem with whitetail deer here. When I would get a permit to cull them he got the skins and heads and the meat was put in my freezer or distributed to friends who wanted it. He had several farmers he got hides and heads from. Nice guy, he couldn’t sustain the business when the ant-fur and leather types emerged.

    I still have fair bit of rawhide he gave me. Useful stuff.

  12. Dearie, dogs are good for harassing bears and keeping them busy, or with black bears, treeing them. If you’ve got a bow and are decent shot, which these folks would be, a treed bear would be fairly easy to deal with.

    The bear will eventually do the dogs in, in a protracted fight or figure it’s not worth it and flee. It depends on how hungry and determined they are and the size of the dogs.

    Hunting, you would likely use the dogs to distract the bear and get a kill shot with your bow, or drive you’re lance through it’s lungs and heart.

    Mules are great bear deterrents, but I don’t know if they were used as such at that time? They’ll kick the animals to a pulp. A mule will send a bear flying.

    Bears will generally head for the hills when they spot a man. As long as you’re not between a female and her cubs, bears aren’t much of problem unless they’re starving. Those view you as prey.

    A man with alone with a spear surprising a bear would have to fight for all he was worth to have a chance with a bear on the ground. Even with a bow, a bear is as fast as horse over a short distance. You’ve got one shot and it better kill and drop it on the spot. If the bear is wounded, even mortally it’s going to be enraged and have enough left to kill you before it drops.

    These people had been working with wood for millennia. My guess is they likely they used log deadfall or door traps to take bears if they were a real problem to the village and it’s livestock, or moved to a less infested area.

    Using log traps are much safer than hunting the things. With a door, trap it’s a simple shot or spear thrust through the space between the logs into the animals vitals and waiting. With a deadfall the animal is crushed. Log deadfalls for bears are still used in rural, heavily wooded parts of the world where they’re not regulated.

    Hunting bears by Otzi’s time with bows and spears, may have been a ritual or elite activity.

  13. It would be interesting to learn more about how we know that ‘ “The Copper Age neolithic style of making leather was very primitive, clothing would have decomposed and degraded quite quickly under normal circumstances.thanks for sharing

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