Otzi the Iceman: His clothing reveals stylish secrets of the leather-loving ancient man

Doug Williams
Photograph: Institute for Mummies and the Iceman
Photograph: Institute for Mummies and the Iceman

Ever since it was first discovered more than twenty-five years ago that Otzi the iceman has gained a status of a celebrity amongst archaeologists and tourists alike.

The naturally mummified corpse discovered buried under the ice of Italian Alps has attracted scores of history enthusiasts and aspiring archaeologists; so this should not come as a surprise to anyone that Otzi’s fashion sense has now come under scrutiny. This is partly due to the reason that some people believe we  know everything there is to be known about Otzi however now there is a need to change the perspective and see the corpse from a rather modern lens.

The notion has been strengthened by the claims of the scientists who have been extensively working on the 5300 years old corpse that they have meticulously uncovered some of the amazing secrets of Otzi’s clothing.

The new study into Otzi’s wardrobe have suggested that the man once lived as a versatile tailor who crafted his clothes out of the skins from goats, sheep, and cattle; his clothes also include hides from the bear. The co-author of the research on Otzi from University College Dublin, Mr. Ron Pinhasi said that recent findings tell us that Otzi was quiet a picky dresser, who made his dress out of a choice of various skins. Pinhasi added that considering the era Otzi might have lived through, this trait of mixing up various material in making one dress seems highly sophisticated.

Shortly after Otzi’s frozen remains were first discovered, scientists had started tests of various kinds to determine certain aspects of his existence. Otzi has been found to be 45 years old at the time of his death; the main cause of death has been determined as bleeding to death due to a deep wound on his shoulder that came from an arrow.

Apart from the age and reason of death, researchers have uncovered a number of secrets about the prehistoric man including his medical history – that suggested that Otzi had Lyme disease – and discovery of another cut on his hand suggesting he must have been involved in a brawl shortly before he died.

One aspect of Otzi’s corpse that remained a sort of a mystery was his wardrobe. Although it was known to the researchers earlier on during the research, that the clothes Otzi died in came for a combination of various leather. However, the age of the material and unknown leather manufacturing techniques of the Copper Age made it hard for the researchers to truly determine the nature of the skins used in the clothing.

Researchers from Italy and Ireland wrote in the Journal Scientific Reports regarding their research in which they analysed a genetic material known as Mitochondrial DNA extracted from the various fragments of the prehistoric man’s garments including his fur cap and loin clothing.

Niall O’ Sullivan the author of the research from the Institute for Mummies and Iceman, Bolzano in Italy said that the main aim of the study was to determine the species the leather of the clothes came from, and then to find out if these species had a local origin or were transported from elsewhere.

The final results of the study astonished the researchers and fashion lovers alike when scientists revealed that at least five different species were used to create the Otzi’s clothes. The loin cloth came from sheep skin, shoelaces of cow-leather, goat hide used in his leggings, and his famous coat came from a combination of both goats hide and sheep skin that came from at least four different animals, which was later joined together to form one piece. The analysis of the mitochondrial DNA on the fragments revealed that goats, sheep, and cattle used in making the clothes were all local and domesticated animals.



fmssolution is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival