In 1991, on the mountainous border between Austria and Italy, a 5,300-year-old mummified corpse was discovered trapped in a European glacier by hikers. Since then, scientists have run several tests on the frozen corpse (named Ötzi the Iceman) to learn more about his life and health.
Most recently, researchers have been looking into Ötzi’s wardrobe. The scientists found that at the time of his death—Ötzi is believed to have bled to death after being hit by an arrow—the Copper Age iceman sported an ensemble made from skins of sheep, goat and cattle, and hides of brown bear and roe deer.
“To me it seems pretty sophisticated in terms of the capacities to use so many different materials from different animals,” said Ron Pinhasi, co-author of the research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, from the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy, to The Guardian.
To see how the tattooed iceman manufactured his clothes, the researchers analyzed mitochondrial DNA, a type of genetic material, from nine pieces from six of his garments.
“The main question of study was to see what species these leathers were from and then the secondary question was are these species domestic varieties or not,” said Niall O’Sullivan, first author of the research and a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University College Dublin in Ireland.
According to Pinhasi, Ötzi was “pretty picky” with how he created his clothes. His loin cloth, for example, was from sheepskin, his leggings were from goat hide, his shoelaces from cow-leather, and his coat was stitched up from sheep and goat hide from four different animals. Ötzi’s hat and quiver, on the other hand, were made of brown bear hide and roe deer skin, respectively.
“It is possible that he might have used his hunting ability to capture and kill a bear, or it [could be] that he came across a dying bear and opportunistically took the skin and used it as leather,” said O’Sullivan. “It shows us that he was opportunistic and resourceful and used to the best of his ability the scarce resources which were available to him in a very harsh environment.”
Since Ötzi’s attire was made of leather, it is likely that his garments would decay and degrade quickly. This means he would have had to make new clothes on a regular basis.
“The Copper Age neolithic style of making leather was very primitive, clothing would have decomposed and degraded quite quickly under normal circumstances,” said O’Sullivan. “So he had to rapidly change his clothes and he was probably constantly renewing the clothes and augmenting it so that bits didn’t fall apart.”
The use of different materials for different garments and using the same kind of materials for repairs suggests that Ötzi put thought into his look.
“It’s not chaotic,” said Frank Maixner, a microbiologist and one of the study’s authors, to Smithsonian.com. “It’s really ordered, there’s a structure, there’s a fashion, in my eyes.”