The Iceman Rocked a Bear Fur Hat and Goat Skin Leggings 5,300 Years Ago

August 18, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

otzi quinson
Photo credit: 120/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Genetic study reveals Ötzi the Iceman was really into leather.

Since his frozen corpse was discovered in the Italian Ötztal Alps in 1991, researchers have analyzed every discernable aspect of the Iceman’s life, from his diet and medical history to the tools he used.

But what about his sense of style?

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers analyzed the ancient DNA from the Iceman’s clothes and quiver and found the materials were fashioned from five different animals: cattle, sheep, goat, brown bear and roe deer.

“To me it seems pretty sophisticated in terms of the capacities to use so many different materials from different animals,” study co-author Ron Pinhas from University College, Dublin, tells The Guardian.

The Iceman’s items included: a sheep leather loincloth, a cow leather shoelace, a strappy brown bear fur hat, a sheep and goat skin coat, goat skin leggings, and a quiver made from roe deer.


Ötzi the Iceman reconstruction. Credit: Thilo Parg/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

With such a varied wardrobe, it’s possible that Ötzi was a discerning fashionista. The fact that his leggings were made from goat leather, which was also used to manufacture a pair of 4,500-year-old leggings discovered in Switzerland, could reflect careful selection of the material based on desirable qualities.

On the other hand, his coat was a combination of at least four goat and sheep hides, which the researchers describe as “a haphazard stitching together of clothing based upon materials that were available to the Iceman.”

The sheep and goat leathers fit with the idea that Ötzi was a shepherd, but the pieces sourced from wild species raise the question of whether he hunted and trapped the animals himself, or traded for them.

Ötzi might have also been a skilled tailor, but as study lead author Niall O’Sullivan tells Scientific American, without written records, it is impossible to know whether he fashioned the outfit himself or obtained ready-made pieces which he then assembled.

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