Our friend from the Alps, loved by all and becoming if anything, a little too familiar, appears on our screen once again, "enlivened" since 1991 when he was discovered and our last encounter in February. It seemed Oetzi couldn't have had any blood preserved for the length of time (5,300 years) he's been lying in the mountains. But, as ever with this persistent man, he's come up trumps.
Intrepid researchers in Munich using the latest methods have discovered blood from his arm. If you remember, he died with an arrow in his back, but now we can say that he lived for a while first. With the use of a nano-technique using a fine metal point, several atoms in width, an extreme resolution can be obtained in atomic force microscopy.
When characteristic doughnut shapes appeared, ether pollen, bacteria or just a negative imprint of a red blood cell could have been present. Raman spectroscopy chemically identified haemoglobin and fibrin in the sample, proving conclusively that these were the oldest blood cells ever observed under a microscope.
The researchers confirm that the interest already shown by the medical journal Lancet, was fully justified in that the degradation of red blood cells can now be studied much more completely, given the tools employed and the specimens available from this body. The extreme cold must have protected them from complete decay.
More than that, the spectroscopy provided evidence that the fibrin was in a clot in a fresh wound. This means that Oetzi must have lived for a short time after his injuries to a major blood vessel in the back and his hand.
Credit: © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology
Professor Albert Zink remarked that, "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."
Professor Zink worked in this instance with the Centre for Smart Interfaces at Darmstadt University but colleagues at the Eurac Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Italy provided the samples.
Discovered at 3210m (10,500 feet), in the Oertzal Alps of the southern Italian Tyrol, the famed Iceman died aged 45, with brown eyes, a lactose intolerance and blood group O. He was 1.6m tall (5'3") and had a weight of 50kg (110lb.) Oetzi is published once more today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface by Dr Albert Zink et al in the paper: Preservation of 5300-year-old Red Blood Cells.