Friday, January 25, 2019

More on Otzi's Diet and His Last Meal

About six months ago, I commented on a recent study of the contents of the stomach of Ötzi, a Stone Age man found in the Austrian Alps in the 1990s.  That study noted that his last meal had been a kind of goat bacon, and I speculated about whether that meal had been specially eaten to fuel him for his mountain trip:
Did Ötzi eat a higher fat meal than normal before setting out, to fuel himself for trekking through the mountains?  The information gleaned about the meal suggests that he brought food with him for his journey, adding to the picture of careful preparation for a mountain journey drawn by his clothing and equipment.  But that preparation for a special trip still doesn't rule out the possibility that his meal might have been typical for a man of his age, occupation, and time.  If so, what does that tell us about Stone Age life?
More recently I found the embedded video above, published in 2016 in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the discovery of Ötzi's remains.  This video suggests that we do have enough information to deduce the answer to this question.  That information indicates that we know the contents of Ötzi's last two meals, and that the meals were not identical to each other.  The first of the two meals had been eaten an estimated 8 hours before his death, and featured chamois goat bacon, while the earlier meal was red deer meat.  Moreover, neither meal consisted of meat alone.  The meats in both meals had been eaten with a combination of roots, fruit, and einkorn grain.  It's worth noting that Ötzi's teeth were worn down in a manner consistent with the habitual eating of coarse grains.

How can we tell the meals were consumed at different times?  Because pollen evidence in the corpse shows that they were consumed in different places.  The earlier meal was consumed near domesticated crops, such as wheat or possibly even legumes, while the other meal was consumed in a "mid-altitude conifer forest"--more like what one would have encountered while climbing to higher altitudes.   This suggests that red deer meat was more normal food for Ötzi, while the goat meat meal must have been obtained and prepared while he was traveling into the mountains.  Availability, not health, likely inspired Ötzi's choice of goat for his last meal.

The relevant portion of the video starts at about 2:25.


  1. It's truly amazing that they can get so much information from Ötzi's stomach contents. If the earlier meal were a typical one and deer were a common source of meat for Ötzi's community, I wonder if they had made any attempts to domesticate or semi-domesticate deer.

    1. My understanding is that the information they got is based on pollen grains found in Ötzi's stomach. Getting into whether Ötzi's people might have been working on domesticating deer is probably beyond the information they can glean from his body. However, hopefully other data may lead to an understanding of the deer issue.