This iceman wouldn't be caught dead in any old leather

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The clothing found with the iceman in 1991(Credit: UCD)

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If you've ever wondered what men's fashion was like 5,300 years ago, a team of scientists led by Niall O'Sullivan of University College Dublin (UCD) have part of the answer. Using DNA analysis, the clothing and accessories found with the frozen corpse of a Copper Age man in the Alps shows that they were made up of at least five different species of domestic and wild animals.

In 1991, a pair of German tourists were walking through the Ötztal Alps on the border between Austria and Italy when they came upon the desiccated body of a man frozen in the ice. At first, it was thought to be the remains of a mountaineer, but subsequent investigation revealed that Ötzi, as the Tyrolean Iceman was nicknamed, was a 45-year old man clad in furs who had been severely beaten and shot with an arrow before walking or being chased into the mountains to die 5,300 years ago.

Though the exact circumstances of his death remain a matter of debate, Ötzi's body has been the subject of 25 years of analysis, with his anatomy, wounds, stomach contents, possessions, and clothes all painstakingly examined in hope of learning more about his ancestry, diet, and culture. Because of its advanced stages of decomposition, the clothing has been particularly hard to learn about.

Using nine fragments of the iceman's attire, O'Sullivan and scientists from the UCD School of Archaeology and the UCD Earth Institute, and the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman, EURAC research, Italy took a new approach. They sequenced the genomes of the mitochondria of the leather garments and quiver found with Ötzi. By targeting and magnifying specific DNA strands, UCD says that it was possible to identify the species from which the leather came for the first time.

What the sequencing found was that the leather used for the iceman's garments came from different wild and domestic animals for different purposes, with most coming from sheep and goats. His shoelaces were of cow leather while his loin cloth was of sheepskin and the leggings were of goat leather. Meanwhile, his coat was of four different hides from two species. O'Sullivan says that this mismatch of sheep and goat indicates that the coat might be a "haphazard" stitch-together.

However, Ötzi's hat was made of brown bear while his quiver was of roe deer. According to O'Sullivan, this indicates that he might not have been an agro-pastoralist, a farmer and livestock herder as previously thought, but also a hunter,

Museum reconstruction of the iceman's garments(Credit: Wolfgang Sauber/Wikipedia)

"Given that there appears to be pattern to the Iceman's clothes assemblage, he was a resourceful individual using all that was available to him," says O'Sullivan. "The coat is primarily sheep. Goat was found in leggings of two ancient individuals from alpine Europe. This may have been for flexibility [of movement]."

The research was published in Nature.

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