The Who2 Blog

Oetzi Gives the World’s Oldest Blood Sample

They’ve found a trace of blood on the Oezti Iceman, the mummified 5,300 year-old corpse found in the Alps in 1991. It’s the world’s oldest blood.

Oetzi — or Otzi — is from the period between the Stone Age and the Bronze Age. The Chalcolithic Period, they call it.

They know this because they recovered artifacts along with the corpse. Oetzi had some unfinished hunting tools (bow and arrows), a leather pouch that had some pyrite in it, a bit of charcoal and one shoe. The shoe had holes for laces. Five thousand years ago they had shoelaces in the Alps.

He also had some mushrooms, and his clothing was woven together with grass. They dated the grass at around 5,000 years old — a determination made independently of the labs carbon-dating the body.

It’s taken 20 years to find the traces of blood that are now making the news. Part of that is because the ownership of Oetzi Iceman was in dispute for quite a while. An Austrian team hauled him out of the ice, and at first it was thought he was found within that country’s borders. A survey showed instead that Oetzi was found in Italy. That’s where he is now, at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology.

Yep, they just picked him up with their hands

It also took time to find the blood. We’re not talking about a big ol’ drop of blood, we’re talking about red blood cells. They are scientifically known as “itty-bitty.”

Now scientists are pretty sure Oetzi was around 45 years old, they know what he ate and they know what diseases he had. They even know he wore a size 5 shoe. They don’t know what happened to his genitals, which are missing.

They know he was stabbed or shot with an arrowhead, and they guess that he probably died within half an hour of that. Scientists have now found traces of blood around his wound, and that’s pretty exciting for forensics reasons.

No, Oetzi is not being paternity tested for the Maury Povich show. But a look at his 5,000 year-old blood will give a hint as to what happens to blood over time, and that’s important for a lot of reasons, among them crime solving. Now’s the time to make a joke about “cold cases.”

They still don’t have any idea what the heck Oetzi — a.k.a. “Frozen Fritz” — was doing way up in the mountains, far from any area of settlement.

They also don’t know why Brad Pitt has a tattoo of Oetzi Iceman.

For more, read the Who2 biography of Oetzi Iceman.

Or, try this Live Science article. Or this one.

(Photos are from the 1993 BBC documentary Otzi the Iceman.)

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