Copper Age superstar Ötzi has gone from being a mere scientific relic to the world’s oldest fashion model, after researchers analyzed the DNA in his clothing to find out what he was wearing when he was fatally wounded by an enemy’s arrow around 5,300 years ago.
Understanding which animal pelts and hides were popular in the ancient rag trade can help scientists learn more about how people lived in bygone eras, by providing clues as to what types of creatures they farmed and hunted. Unfortunately, however, there is no label on Ötzi’s clothing, and by the time his body was discovered in the Italian Alps in 1991, the genetic material in the hair and leather had become so degraded that the animals could not be identified.
Yet in a new study published this week in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers reveal how they were able to salvage enough DNA from the mitochondria of these fur and leather samples to decipher which species they belonged to. Interestingly, they found that Ötzi’s clothing was made up of five different animals, each of which appeared to be specifically chosen for its particular properties.
For example, his shoes were made from cattle leather, which is a sensible choice as it is more durable than other available materials. The so-called Iceman also wore a coat made of sheep and goat hides that were “haphazardly” stitched together. These are likely to have provided more warmth than other skins, indicating that while Ötzi may not have been the best tailor or particularly sartorial, he was highly practical, opting for function over fashion (though he did have some badass tattoos).
Interestingly, the species of sheep used to make Ötzi’s coat and loincloth was genetically more similar to modern domestic sheep than wild varieties, which gives some indication of the farming activities of ancient Alpine communities.
Analysis also revealed that the Iceman was wearing a brown bear fur hat and goat leather leggings when he died, and carried his arrows in a quiver made of roe deer leather.
Ötzi was discovered in 1991, more than 5,300 years after his death. AFP/Stringer/Getty