Lump in Iceman's Stomach May Be Ancient Cheese
The position Otzi was found in
The history of cheese keeps getting more interesting. Scientists had just pushed the oldest-cheese record back to about 1615 BC, based on kefir cheese discovered among mummified bodies in China's Taklamakan Desert. Now, fat found in the stomach of the Iceman mummy may also be cheese -- taking the food's history back another 1,500 years.
Scientists studying the Iceman, a 5,000-year-old South Tyrolean mummy, think a lump of fat found in his stomach could be a chunk of well-aged cheese.
"It'd be the oldest cheese in human history," said Angelika Fleckinger, director of the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy, where the mummy -- also known as Oetzi after the Oetztal Alps, where he was found in a melting glacier in 1991 -- is kept in a refrigerated cell with a small viewing window.
She was speaking at the recent opening of a special exhibition, Oetzi 2.0, at the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection (ASM) in Munich.
Only last week, scientists pushed the oldest-cheese record back to about 1615 BC, based on kefir cheese discovered among mummified bodies in China's Taklamakan Desert.
If the Iceman ate cheese, that would take the food's history back another 1,500 years. The Iceman lived between 3350 and 3100 BC.
The fat was found in the Iceman's stomach -- along with remains of a last meal consisting of ibex meat, vegetables and an ancient type of wheat -- when he was briefly thawed out in 2010 so that 60 scientists working round the clock could extract tissue samples.
Scientists also continue to examine bloodstains found on the hide coat worn by the Iceman, who presumably bled to death after being struck in the shoulder by an arrow.
If someone else's blood is also detected on the coat, it could mean the Iceman's murder was preceded by a struggle. Results of the examination are expected sometime this year.
"He opens a window into the past," said Rupert Gebhard, the ASM's director.
At the time of his death, the Iceman was about 45 years old, 160 centimetres tall and weighed about 50 kilograms. He suffered from back pain, worn joints, hardened arteries, tooth decay and periodontosis.
Tattoos on his back and ankle in the form of lines and crosses, made by scarifying the skin and rubbing in charcoal and herbs, were not decorative but therapeutic.
"They're exciting evidence of the medical know-how that people had then," remarked Fleckinger, who said the tattoos had been meant to ease the pain of the Iceman's degenerative illnesses.
Visitors at the Munich exhibition, which runs until August 31, can see an interactive model of his body and replicas of his implements, including a copper-bladed axe and first-aid kit. A webcam allows a glimpse of the mummy, which remains back in Italy.
© 2014 Deutsche Presse-Agentur under contract with YellowBrix.