Otzi the Iceman and Sheepskin

Otzi the Iceman Was Wearing Sheepskin When He Died 5,300 Years Ago

Since “Otzi the Iceman” was discovered by a pair of hikers in the Italian Alps in 1991, scientists have learned a great deal about Europe’s oldest known natural human mummy – that he most likely spent his life farming and herding, that he may have also hunted and trapped wild animals in his alpine environment, and that he was wearing sheepskin when he died 5,300 years ago. Sheepskin is a natural material known for its warmth, durability and comfort, and the fact that Otzi chose shearling as part of his alpine attire only further demonstrates the many benefits of genuine sheepskin.

When Otzi’s mummified remains were first discovered in a European glacier more than 20 years ago, he was accompanied by an assortment of clothing, including a hide coat, a fur hat, skin leggings and shoes stuffed with hay, but, because the leather and fur had decomposed over the thousands of years Otzi was in the ice, it was impossible for researchers at the time to determine what animals the clothing had come from. However, thanks to modern DNA testing, the results of which were published this month in the journal Scientific Reports, scientists from the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman at the European Research Academy in Bolzano, Italy, have been able to identify the various animals that made up Otzi the Iceman’s ensemble.

The scientists involved in the Otzi the Iceman study were able to capture ancient DNA markers in nine samples of fur and leather from different articles of the mummy’s clothing, and, according to their results, Otzi’s choice of dress was both selective and practical, given his environment and lifestyle. In addition to a coat and leggings made from goat hide, a fur hat made from a brown bear, a quiver made from deer leather, and shoelaces made from wild cows, Otzi the Iceman also wore a loincloth stitched together from sheepskin, a finding already reported in previous studies. However, the researchers in this latest study were able to determine that the loincloth was fashioned from the skins of a species of sheep that is more closely related to modern, domestic European sheep, rather than their wild cousins.

The Scientific Reports study also indicated that, while Otzi’s coat was primarily goatskin, the garment was actually stitched together with the hides of several other animals, a finding that suggested that the coat was likely repaired with any hides that were available at the time, and that led researchers to believe that the Iceman may have hunted and trapped wild animals in his alpine environment, in addition to farming and herding. So, what does all this mean for you? Well, if Otzi the Iceman felt that sheepskin offered him the highest level of comfort and warmth, and the best protection against the elements while he was living in the Italian Alps around 3,300 BCE, imagine what it can do for you!