Iceman mummy shares last meals

Around 5,000 years ago, a lone hunter trekking through Europe’s Tyrolean Alps ate his final two meals. First, he munched on wild cereals, goat meat, and a few flowering plants. Later, the man partook of red deer meat and possibly more cereals. Then he died in a rocky basin, where his frozen, naturally mummified body was discovered in 1991.

The ancient culinary sendoff of the so-called Tyrolean Iceman has emerged from an analysis of food remains in his colon and intestines. Researchers directed by Franco Rollo of the University of Camerino in Italy extracted DNA and tested it for similarities to DNA from a variety of modern plant and animal species.

Other genetic evidence identified pollen residue in the hunter’s colon. This material, probably unintentionally ingested by breathing or by drinking water, indicates that he made his last journey through a heavily forested area, Rollo and his colleagues report in an upcoming Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The scientists theorize that rival hunters killed the Iceman; he has an arrowhead imbedded in his left shoulder.


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Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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