Wounded Iceman Made Epic Final Journey, Moss Shows

Kate Ravilious
for National Geographic News
December 4, 2008

Ötzi, the prehistoric Iceman, apparently dressed his own wounds with moss as he traversed the Alps, the first ever intestinal study of a glacier mummy shows.

Fragments of six species of moss found in his gut suggest that the ancient man used bog moss—a mildly antiseptic and highly absorbent variety—to treat an injury on his palm, scientists believe. Several conflict wounds, including an arrow wound in the shoulder, eventually killed him.

He likely used another species of moss to wrap his food.

Researchers are confident that Ötzi wasn't deliberately eating the moss, but that some of the plant matter stuck to his fingers as he ate.

"Moss is neither palatable, nor nutritious," said study lead author James Dickson, an archaeobotanist at the University of Glasgow, U.K.

"You'd need to be starving to death before you eat moss," he said.

The plant discoveries also help piece together his last journey, showing that the fit 46-year-old traveled vast distances in a short amount of time.

The study was published recently in the journal Vegetation History and Archaeobotany.

"Complete Shock"

Discovered in 1991 on a mountain glacier in South Tyrol, Italy, Ötzi is one of the world's oldest and best preserved ice mummies.

He is thought to have died from an arrow wound and severe head trauma while traveling across the Alps some 5,300 years ago.

Researchers took five samples of Ötzi's last meals—two from his small intestine, two from his colon, and one from his rectum—by passing a tube through his shriveled gut.

Continued on Next Page >>


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