What Iceman Ötzi’s fashion choices say about his life

19 Aug

Ötzi the Iceman, a natural mummy discovered frozen in the Ötztal Alps in Italy, has offered scientists a broad variety of clues into the lives of Copper Age Europeans since its discovery a quarter century ago. And now researchers know what leathers and furs the mysterious man wore.
But the investigation wasn’t just to see if the famous mummy was fashion-forward. Knowing which animal skins Ötzi wore is another way to fill in the blanks in pre-historians’ picture of Copper Age Europe.

The animal skins the European wore when he died are helping scientists piece together Ötzi’s life.

Scientists have poked and prodded Ötzi since he was discovered by two hikers in 1991. They know what his last meal was, how he was murdered, and who his living relatives are.

But previous analysis of his clothing was limited because the tanning process, preservation, and subsequent scientific analyses had made the source animals for the leathers and furs difficult to identify.

So Mr. O’Sullivan and his colleagues turned to DNA to identify the species covering Ötzi’s body.

Ötzi wore a full outfit when he died, likely to keep him warm in the chilly mountains. A furry hat sat atop his head, straw-stuffed shoes were on his feet, and he wore leggings, a loincloth, and a coat.

The team found that the Iceman’s shoes were laced up with strings made of cattle leather, while his loincloth and much of his coat were made of sheep leather.

But his overcoat was a bit of a patchwork. The genetic analysis revealed that this article of clothing was made of both goat and sheep leather. The combination suggests that the Iceman pieced together whatever hides he had available, which would have been necessary as the ancient leather likely deteriorated quickly, the researchers write in the new paper.

Ötzi’s leggings, however, seem to be a more deliberate choice. Made of the more supple goat leather, they would have been relatively flexible for walking. Or perhaps goat leather was chosen for its “insulating potential,” the researchers write.

A set of 4,500-year-old leggings found in the Swiss Alps were also made of goatskin, so perhaps this was a common use for that material.

The Iceman’s hat was made from the skin of a brown bear, which Dr. Lenstra suggests could have had symbolic meaning as well as keeping Ötzi’s head warm.

“It is imaginable that with a hat of a skin of an intimidating animal you become more intimidating yourself,” he suggests.

And perhaps the quiver Ötzi carried his arrows in also had important symbolic meaning, Lenstra says.

The quiver was made from the hide of roe deer, an animal known to be swift.

“If survival depended on hunting with arrows and individual status on your success as marksman, the belief may have been crept in that a quiver made of a fast-running species increases your chance of hitting well the next time,” Lenstra says.

Source: Christian Science Monitor

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