ISB News

‘Ötzi’ the Iceman’s last meal consisted of fat, wild meat, cereals

Members of ISB’s Moritz lab, as part of an international consortium centered in Bolzano Italy, report this week in Cell, “Current Biology,” a multi-omic approach to identify the stomach contents and microbiome of the 5,300-year-old Mummy, Ötzi, the Iceman from the Ötzal Alps on the Austrian/Italian border.

Highlights:

  • The last meal of “Ötzi” the Iceman, a European Copper Age mummy, was reconstructed
  • Our multi-omic approach deciphers the meal composition and food processing
  • Ötzi’s high-fat diet was supplemented with wild meat and cereals

In Brief:

An international consortium including Institute for Systems Biology’s Moritz Lab reports the dietary reconstruction of Ötzi the Iceman’s last meal using a combined multi-omics approach. The stomach content analysis of the 5,300-year-old glacier mummy shows that Ötzi the Iceman’s diet preceding his sudden death was a mix of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids, which is well adjusted to the energetic requirements of his high-altitude trekking.

The history of humankind is marked by the constant adoption of new dietary habits affecting human physiology, metabolism, and even the development of nutrition-related disorders. Despite clear archaeological evidence for the shift from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to agriculture in Neolithic Europe, very little information exists on the daily dietary habits of our ancestors. By undertaking a complementary omics approach combined with microscopy, we analyzed the stomach content of Ötzi, who seems to have had a remarkably high proportion of fat in his diet, supplemented with fresh or dried wild meat, cereals, and traces of toxic bracken. Our multi-pronged approach provides unprecedented analytical depth, deciphering the nutritional habit, meal composition, and food-processing methods of this Copper Age individual. Our forensic multi-omics study provides important insights into the general life and nutritional habits of a Copper Age individual in the Alpine area. The microscopic and molecular data presented support the presence of three major components in the Iceman’s last meal: fat and game meat from ibex and red deer supplemented with cereals from einkorn.

The Iceman’s Gastrointestinal Tract

(A) Gastrointestinal (GI) tract preservation and content texture. The radiographic image shows the completely filled stomach (asterisk) and the intestinal loops of the lower GI tract (arrows). Content samples of the stomach (left, asterisk) and of two different sites in the lower GI tract (middle, right) that were re-hydrated in phosphate buffer are shown below the radiographic image. (B) Animal muscle fibers detected in the stomach content using light microscopy. Scale bar, 50 mm. The black box contains a zoomed-in view of one muscle fiber (scale bar, 20 mM). (C) Plant tissue detected in the stomach content using light microscopy. Scale bar, 50 mm.

 

Metagenomic and Proteomic Analysis identifies diet details immediately preceding the untimely death of Ötzi, the Iceman

GI tract samples included in the multi-omics approach reveal protein from a number of different species and classifies the food components of Ötzi’s last meal. The blue-bar diagrams below the sample description display the read distribution between the two kingdoms Bacteria and Eukaryota in selected shotgun datasets. The number of shotgun datasets included in all further metagenomics analyses is provided in brackets. Most abundant taxa detected in the intestinal content shotgun datasets. The circle size corresponds to the number of unambiguously assigned mitochondrial and chloroplast reads per million metagenomic reads. Plant and animal proteins detected in the stomach content displays the identified proteins for the taxa Caprinae (species sometimes called goat antelope), Cervinae (the Old World deer), and Triticinae (ancient wheat).

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