Copper Age Bacon Was 5,300-Year-Old Otzi The Iceman’s Final Meal

Otzi the Iceman was found in the Otzal Alps in 1991, 5,300 years after he died, and now scientists have discovered that Copper Age bacon was one of the last things that he had eaten before he was murdered. Otzi was between 40 and 50 years of age when he died, and in just the past year researchers have discovered what kind of clothing he was wearing, what his voice might have sounded like, and also what his final meal had been.

Gizmodo reports that Otzi was enjoying a final meal of something called “speck,” which is a dry-cured meat that is a kind of bacon-like food. This means that Copper Age Europeans were also eating prosciutto more than 5,000 years ago.

This discovery was made by Albert Zink, who is an expert in mummies from the European Academy of Bolzano. Zink has been busy researching the contents inside Otzi the Iceman’s stomach for many years now, and in 2011 it was revealed that Ibex, a type of goat who lived in the European Alps, had been consumed by Otzi as trace amounts had been found in his stomach. But now Albert Zink has found that a dry-cured meat was also eaten by Otzi the Iceman.

Albert Zink was able to determine that this special bacon had been eaten by Otzi by looking at the nanostructure from the goat meat fibers that were inside the Iceman’s stomach. Tests showed that the meat was not raw, but had been dry-cured, rather than cooked another way such as being grilled.

It is thought that rather than hunt and cook this bacon, Otzi the Iceman may have instead bought this meat specifically for his journey, before he was struck and killed by an arrow, as the Smithsonian Magazine notes.

“The iceman felt secure and had a rest with a large meal At a maximum of 30 to 60 minutes later, because otherwise his stomach would have emptied, he was shot from behind with an arrow.”

The Alps, where Ötzi the Iceman's body was discovered in 1991.
The Alps, where Ötzi the Iceman's body was discovered in 1991. [Image by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]

The discovery that Copper Age people were eating dry-cured meats is extremely surprising, especially as this is a complicated process which involves cold smoking meats while also adding different spices and salts. Before now, the previous oldest discovery we have of individuals eating dry-cured meats were those who lived in ancient Greece and Persia, which was 2,500 years ago.

The Helicobacter pylori bacterium was also discovered inside Otzi the Iceman’s stomach, which is the oldest that has ever been found so far. This bacterium is linked to people developing gastric cancer, as well as ulcers, and is particularly interesting in this case as it also allows scientists to track the migration of ancient people both in and out of Europe.

Otzi the Iceman ate a dry-cured mean similar to Prosciutto right before he was killed.
Otzi the Iceman ate a dry-cured mean similar to Prosciutto right before he was killed. [Image by Richard Drew/AP Images]

It was found that Otzi the Iceman shared the same strain of this bacterium that people living Europe shared with those in Asia. This is quite different to the North African strain of bacterium that is normal today. The University of Venda’s Professor Yoshan Moodley has said that today’s strain of African pylori had not been introduced into Europe during Otzi the Iceman’s lifetime.

“We can say now that the waves of migration that brought these African Helicobacter pylori into Europe had not occurred, or at least not occurred in earnest, by the time the iceman was around 5,300 years ago.”

Now that we know that Otzi the Iceman was eating dry-cured meat before his death, what other new discoveries might we learn about him in the future?

[Featured Image by Matthias Schrader/Getty Images]