"Even five years ago, the story was that he fled up there and walked around in the snow and probably died of exposure," said Klaus Oeggl, an archaeobotanist at the University of Innsbruck. "Now it's all changed. It's more like a paleo crime scene."
The object of all this intense scientific attention is a freeze-dried slab of human jerky, which since 1998 has resided in a refrigerated, high-tech chamber in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy. The temptation to conduct fresh experiments on the body rises with every new twist of technology, each revealing uncannily precise details about his life. Using a sophisticated analysis of isotopes in one of the Iceman's teeth, for example, scientists led by Wolfgang Muller (now at the Royal Holloway, University of London) have shown that he probably grew up in the Valle Isarco, an extensive north-south valley that includes the modern-day town of Bressanone. Isotope levels in his bones, meanwhile, match those in the soil and water of two alpine valleys farther west, the Val Senales and the Val Venosta. Muller's team has also analyzed microscopic chips of mica recovered from the Iceman's intestines, which were probably ingested accidentally in food made from stone-ground grain; geologic ages of the mica best match a small area limited to the lower Val Venosta. The Iceman probably set off on his final journey from this very area, near where the modern-day Adige and Senales Rivers meet.
We also know that he was not in good health when he headed up into the mountains. The one surviving fingernail recovered from his remains suggests that he suffered three episodes of significant disease during the last six months of life, the last bout only two months prior to his death. Doctors inspecting the contents of his intestines have found eggs of the whipworm parasite, so he may well have suffered from stomach distress. But he was not too sick to eat. In 2002, Franco Rollo and colleagues at the University of Camerino in Italy analyzed tiny amounts of food residue from the mummy's intestines. A day or two before his death, the Iceman had eaten a piece of wild goat and some plant food. The same analysis revealed that his very last meal was red deer and some cereals. The archaeobotanist Klaus Oeggl has concluded from bran-like food residues that the Iceman's diet also included the primitive form of wheat known as einkorn as well as barley, found on his garments, indicating that the Neolithic settlements south of the Alps where he lived cultivated these grains. Oeggl has even found that the small size of the wheat fragments in the gut, along with tiny flecks of charcoal, suggest that the grains were ground and then baked as primitive bread in open fires.