After 5,300 years, the last meal of an ancient Iceman has been revealed — and it was a high-fat, meaty feast

  • Scientists are probing the stomach of Otzi, a 5,300 year old mummy who was found in the Alps between Austria and Italy in 1991.
  • They're finding new clues about what his diet consisted of: a well-balanced mix of meat, leaves and wheat.
  • Roughly half of Otzi's stomach contents were fats, a "remarkable" proportion, according to researchers. They think he probably planned it that way to better survive the harsh alpine conditions.

Some 5,300 years ago, Otzi (aka "frozen Fritz") was murdered in the Alps with a simple one-two punch move: an arrow to the chest, and a blow to the head.

But first, the roughly 45 year-old iceman fueled up, enjoying one last hearty meal. 

Fortunately for science, his dead body was neatly preserved in a rock hollow and naturally mummified as the glaciers moved in and slid right over him, freezing his stomach contents.

What Otzi ate remained something of a mystery after he was first found in 1991. His stomach had shifted upwards over time, making it tough to pinpoint what he ate right before he died, and earlier studies focused more on his intestines. Some scientists thought he might've munched on some kind of prehistoric bacon.

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The famous Iceman, back to Italy after have been analysed by the scientists of University of Innsbruck on 27 March 1998, Bolzano, Italy. (Photo by Gianni GIANSANTI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
A statue representing an iceman named Oetzi, discovered on 1991 in the Italian Schnal Valley glacier, is displayed at the Archaeological Museu of Bolzano on February 28, 2011 during an official presentation of the reconstrution. Based on three-dimensional images of the mummy's skeleton as well as the latest forensic technology, a new model of the living Oetzi has been created by Dutch experts Alfons and Adrie Kennis. AFP PHOTO / Andrea Solero (Photo credit should read Andrea Solero/AFP/Getty Images)
The iceman, nicknamed "Oetzi" was found five years ago by German tourists on the Similaun glacier in the Oetzi valley, after which he is named. With an age of 5,300 years experts call him the world's oldest mummy. Oetzi is being kept in a sarcophagus at a steady temperature of minus six degrees centigrade (21.20 Fahrenheit) and at a humidity of 98 percent at the Institute of Alpine Prehistory, a home specially created for him.
The iceman, nicknamed "Oetzi" after the Oetz valley where he was found by German tourists atop the Similaun glacier in 1991, and believed to be over 5,000 years old, is loaded into a vehicle to be returned to Italy January 16. The Italian government has claimed the rights to the mummy because it was found some 10 meters on the Italian side of the Oetztal alps. Oetzi will be housed in a museum in Bolzano, northern Italy. The writing on the side of the lorry says "Transport of the man from the ice".
The frozen remains of a prehistoric man, nicknamed "Oetzi" for the Oetz valley where he was found by German tourists atop the Similaun glacier in 1991, and beleived to be over 5,000 years old, is unpacked after arriving to Bolzano's Museum of Archeology January 16. Italy and Austria had squabbled over the 5,300 year old corpse since 1991 and Italy laid claim since it was ruled to have been found some 10 metres on the Italian side of the Oetzal alps. The corpse will be housed inside a special refrigirator and kept at below freezing, viewable through a small window.
UNDATED FILE PHOTO - The iceman, nicknamed "Oetzi" for the Oetz valley where he was found by German tourists atop the Similaun glacier in 1991, and believed to be over 5,000 years old, is to be returned to Italy January 16. The Italian government has claimed the rights on the mummy because it was found some ten metres on the Italian side of the Oetztal alps. Oetzi will be housed in a museum in Bolzano, northern Italy. ITALY MUMMY
The mummy of an iceman named Otzi, discovered on 1991 in the Italian Schnal Valley glacier, is on display at the Archaeological Museum of Bolzano on February 28, 2011 during an official presentation of the reconstrution. Visitors will get to see Iceman Oetzi under a new light starting on March 1 at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, which celebrates the 20th anniversary of the mummy's discovery. Based on three-dimensional images of the mummy's skeleton as well as the latest forensic technology, a new model of the living Oetzi has been created by Dutch experts Alfons and Adrie Kennis. AFP PHOTO / Andrea Solero (Photo credit should read Andrea Solero/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY PIERRE FEUILLY The mummy of an iceman named Otzi, discovered on 1991 in the Italian Schnal Valley glacier, is displayed at the Archaeological Museum of Bolzano on February 28, 2011 during an official presentation of the reconstrution. Visitors will get to see Iceman Oetzi under a new light starting on March 1 at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, which celebrates the 20th anniversary of the mummy's discovery. Based on three-dimensional images of the mummy's skeleton as well as the latest forensic technology, a new model of the living Oetzi has been created by Dutch experts Alfons and Adrie Kennis. AFP PHOTO / Andrea Solero (Photo credit should read Andrea Solero/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY PIERRE FEUILLY The mummy of an iceman named Otzi, discovered on 1991 in the Italian Schnal Valley glacier, is displayed at the Archaeological Museum of Bolzano on February 28, 2011 during an official presentation of the reconstrution. Visitors will get to see Iceman Oetzi under a new light starting on March 1 at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, which celebrates the 20th anniversary of the mummy's discovery. Based on three-dimensional images of the mummy's skeleton as well as the latest forensic technology, a new model of the living Oetzi has been created by Dutch experts Alfons and Adrie Kennis. AFP PHOTO / Andrea Solero (Photo credit should read Andrea Solero/AFP/Getty Images)
The famous Iceman, back to Italy after have been analysed by the scientists of University of Innsbruck on 27 March 1998, Bolzano, Italy. (Photo by Gianni GIANSANTI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
The famous Iceman, back to Italy after have been analysed by the scientists of University of Innsbruck, 27 March 1998, Bolzano, Italy. (Photo by Gianni GIANSANTI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
The famous Iceman, back to Italy after have been analysed by the scientists of University of Innsbruck on 27 March 1998, Bolzano, Italy. (Photo by Gianni GIANSANTI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
The famous Iceman, back to Italy after have been analysed by the scientists of University of Innsbruck, here some elements exhibited at Archaeological museum on 27 March 1998, Bolzano, Italy. (Photo by Gianni GIANSANTI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
The famous Iceman, back to Italy after have been analysed by the scientists of University of Innsbruck, here exhibited at Archaeological museum on 27 March 1998, Bolzano, Italy. (Photo by Gianni GIANSANTI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 1997: Anthropological sculptress Elisabeth Daynes uses the finished clay sculpture of Otzi's skull to make a contact-copy in white silicone with plaster reinforcement, from which a final silicone head is then made on October 1, 1997 in Paris, France. Otzi is the name given to the frozen mummy of a man from around 3300BC, found by two German tourists in 1991 in the Schnastal glacier in the Oztal Alps. (Photo by Patrick Landmann/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 1997: Anthropological sculptress Elisabeth Daynes uses the finished clay sculpture of Otzi's skull to make a contact-copy in white silicone with plaster reinforcement, from which a final silicone head is then made on October 1, 1997 in Paris, France. Otzi is the name given to the frozen mummy of a man from around 3300BC, found by two German tourists in 1991 in the Schnastal glacier in the Oztal Alps. (Photo by Patrick Landmann/Getty Images)
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New research, released Thursday in the journal Current Biology, gives us a closer picture than ever of exactly what the mountain man ate to power his high-altitude journey.

Turns out, the guy loved fat.

Microbiologist Frank Maixner of the Eurac Research Institute for Mummy Studies said he found a "remarkably high proportion of fat" — roughly 50% — in the mummy's stomach. 

Probing further into the DNA in iceman's stomach, scientists found evidence of ibex [wild goat] and red deer inside, as well as einkorn wheat. New analysis of the meat fibers in iceman's gut confirms they were probably cooked, barbecued, or smoked and dried in some way before he ate them, because the protein compounds looked different than raw meat would. Previous studies of iceman found some charcoal in his intestine, further suggesting he was a griller.

It looks like Otzi ate well. He had a good mix of nutritional minerals, like iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, and sodium in his stomach. These probably came from consuming animal products.

He also had smaller concentrations of chromium, copper, manganese, selenium, molybdenum, and cobalt in there.

"These data suggest that the Iceman’s last meal was well balanced in terms of essential minerals required for good health," the scientists wrote in their paper. That was a smart strategy for someone trekking nearly 10,500 feet high, slogging through the Alps between Austria and Italy.

"Iceman seemed to have been fully aware that fat represents an excellent energy source." paleopathologist Albert Zink, also at the Eurac Research Institute for Mummy Studies said in a release. "The high and cold environment is particularly challenging for the human physiology and requires optimal nutrient supply to avoid rapid starvation and energy loss." 

The iceman functioned using a similar principle to today's popular ketogenic diet. When there are no carbohydrates or sugars left to fuel your journey, the body can switch into ketosis, relying on fats to keep the brain and body moving.

But the iceman was not a paleo dieter, nor was he a fan of the low-carb, high-fat keto plan.

"The Iceman’s last meal was a well-balanced mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids, perfectly adjusted to the energetic requirements of his high-altitude trekking," the paper authors wrote.

In other words, he wasn't a picky eater, and nibbled on all kinds of foods, including some dangerous toxic bracken ferns. Scientists still aren't sure exactly why he would have eaten a toxic leaf, but suspect it could have been some kind of early stomach medicine, or else it was just an earthy container that some of his other food was wrapped inside, like an early Tupperware. 

His prehistoric body was not immune to some of the ill effects of a high-fat diet, either. Body scans show that his middle-aged arteries were hardening, and it looks like he was well on his way to developing coronary artery disease. That didn't matter once he was murdered and plunged down into a dark rock hollow, putting his fresh and fatty meal on ice for curious scientists to discover thousands of years later. 

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