Frozen Dinners

By Reebs, Stephan | Natural History, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Frozen Dinners


Reebs, Stephan, Natural History


FROZEN DINNERS One September afternoon a dozen years ago, two hikers came across a mummified man at the edge of an alpine glacier in northern Italy. Now known as the Tyrolean Iceman, or Otzi (after the Otzal Alps, where he was discovered), the 5,200-year-oLd corpse has been the subject of much analysis and discussion, including conflicting assertions about his diet.

Now, adding to earlier investigations into Otzi's diet, the molecular anthropologist Franco Rollo and his colleagues, all of the University of Camerino in Italy, have extracted intact DNA fragments from the mummy's intestinal contents and compared the DNA with known sequences from modern plants and animals. Their analysis shows that Otzi's second-to-Last meal (the remains lower down in the intestinal tract) included the meat of an ibex (a wild goat), cereals (grains of the grass family, possibly cultivated), and various other plants. His Last meal was red deer meat.

Today the red deer (Cervus elaphus) is at the periphery of human affairs. …

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