The Environment and Lifestyle of the Neolithic Glacier Mummy "Ötzi"

The Environment and Lifestyle of the Neolithic Glacier Mummy "Ötzi"

The Environment and Lifestyle of the Neolithic Glacier Mummy "Ötzi" The investigations of the Tyrolean Iceman “Ötzi” and his artefacts, discovered at a remote location high in the Eastern Alps, have contributed greatly to knowledge of the lifestyle of Neolithic humankind.
The wood of his artefacts and charcoal finds associated with him reveal 17 different plant species: 9 of these had been used by him to construct various pieces of equipment. These plant species, together with 8 more, were also represented in the charcoal fragments that were picked out of the samples. All of the species occur naturally in the wider extent of the investigation area. The ecological requirements of the woody plant species point to the transition zone between thermophile mixed-oak forest communities (Quercetalia pubescenti-petreae) and the montane Spruce forest (Piceetum montanum). Norwegian Maple (Acer platanoides), European Yew (Taxus baccata), Ash (Fraxinus sp.), Lime (Tilia sp.) and Elm (Ulmus sp.) refer to a humid habitat with a mineral rich, free-draining soil and a mild winter climate, similar to the present-day conditions in the woodlands found on the slopes and in gorges in the lower Schnalstal and Vinschgau in South Tirol.
Each woody species was chosen by the Iceman precisely for the particular requirements of each piece of equipment. Nevertheless, the techniques utilised to make these pieces were still relatively primitive. The fact that certain finds had already become broken before the body had been embedded in the ice and excavated, indicates that they had been subjected to stronger mechanical stress at the time of their deposition than at anytime afterwards.
Plant macrofossil and pollen analyses conducted on a 40 mg specimen of food residue from the Iceman´s colon contribute to knowledge of Neolithic diet, the reconstruction of his environment and the season of his death. His last meal consisted of cereals, vegetables and meat. The farinaceous dish was made mainly of Einkorn (Triticum monococcum), but stone cells and vessel elements prove that he consumed also other vegetables. The microfossil content of the colon residue is rich in pollen (30 types, 2 types of spores), diatoms, mineral particles, charcoal fragments and ova of intestinal parasites. Taxa from deciduous forests (Querco-Fagetea) predominate among the pollen. The most registered Ostrya-type indicates the warmth demanding Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia) and gives unequivocal evidence the he came from the valley-bottoms south of the main range of the Eastern Alps. The taxa-rich pollen flora from the colon residue was ingested most probably by drinking water, as the occurrence of diatoms shows. From the flowering times of the pollen taxa and from the unique preservation of cellular gametophytes in the pollen of both Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia) and Birch (Betula) the deduction is made that the Iceman´s last journey took place in spring or early summer at the latest.
However, the events immediately prior to the Iceman’s death have remained unclear and even the recently discovered arrowhead in his back does not explain conclusively the cause of death satisfactorily. From the pollen and macrofossil content of his gut, we reconstructed his travels just before his demise. Sequential sampling of the food residues in the digestive tract of the 5200 year old glacier mummy has made possible the analyses of a series of meals and, from the pollen content, the deduction of the environments in which the last meals were eaten. During his last 33 or so hours, Ötzi crossed different habitats in the Ötztal mountains over considerable distances from high up near the timber line (at about 2500m), to low down in the zone of warmth-loving trees (about 1200m or less), and finally very high in the zone of perennial ice (above 3000m). These final journeys lend new weight to the disaster theory of Ötzi´s death, which suggests that returning from the high alpine pastures to his native village he came into a severe conflict with his kin that he had to flee from the community back to the high ground familiar to him, where he died.

Personnel involved
Klaus Oeggl
Werner Kofler

Cooperation
Albert Zink, EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman, Bozen, Südtirol
James H. Dickson, Division of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, University of Glasgow