Iceman Wore Cattle, Sheep Hides; May Have Been a Herder

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Ötzi's skull also bears the telltale cracks of a severe blunt trauma from a blow or a fall onto rocks—perhaps as a result of the arrow wound.

It's unclear which wound actually did in Ötzi first—or whether it was a combination of the two.

Why he was killed that day on a high mountain pass is even murkier.

Valuable objects found with the Iceman's body, including a knife and copper-bladed axe, appear to eliminate robbery as a murder motive.

Some believe that Ötzi may have been the victim of ritual sacrifice.

Others suggest a political power struggle in which the Iceman was an aging leader supplanted by violent young rivals.

Innovative Techniques

Though the full story of Ötzi's death will probably never be known, his clothes may offer a clearer picture of what his life was like.

Hollemeyer and colleagues used a recently developed mass spectrometry technique to study fermented proteins found in the prehistoric hairs of Ötzi's clothing and match them against those found in living animals.

Such structural proteins sometimes remain intact in archaeological samples after the DNA has become unusable, Hollemeyer said.

Wolfgang Müller of the University of London also is studying Ötzi but was not involved with the current research.

"I think in some ways it does fit nicely with the idea that he was [a herder]," Müller said of Hollemeyer and his team's findings.

"But at the same time, this theory fell out of favor with certain people, and I don't think there is really a consensus on what this guy [Ötzi] was really up to."

Müller is currently testing a scrap of Ötzi's fingernail for signs that he may have been involved with copper smelting or other metallurgy.

Müller and Hollemeyer have managed to unlock new secrets from a mummy that has been extensively studied.

"It's obvious that many [technologies] are becoming possible now that weren't possible 17 years ago when he was found," Müller said. "That's a huge time in science, so I'm not surprised."

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