Oetzi, the 5,300-year-old “Iceman” mummy of the Alps, lived for some time after being shot in the back by an arrow, scientists said on Tuesday after using forensic technology to analyse his preserved blood.
Contrary to a leading theory, Oetzi did not expire immediately from his wounds, they reported in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, published by Britain’s academy of sciences. Scientists led by Albert Zink of the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, southern Germany used nano-scale methods to probe the oldest blood known to modern science, preserved by thousands of years of alpine chill. Using a so-called atomic force microscope able to resolve images just a few nanometers (billionths of a metre) across, they identified corpuscles with the classic doughtnut shape of healthy blood cells.
“To be absolutely sure that we were not dealing with pollen, bacteria or even a negative imprint of a blood cell, but indeed with actual blood cells, we used a second analytical method,” Zink said. They deployed Raman spectroscopy, in which refracted light from a laser beam gives chemical clues about a sample. This showed the presence of haemoglobin and fibrin, which are key components in blood clotting, at the arrow wound on Oetzi’s back.
“Because fibrin is present in fresh wounds and then degrades, the theory that Oetzi died straight after he had been injured by the arrow, as had once been mooted, and not some days after, can no longer be upheld,” Zink said.
Oetzi’s remains were discovered by two German hikers in September 1991 in the Oetztal Alps in South Tyrol, northern Italy, 3,210 metres (10,500 feet) above sea level.