Scientists discover details of Ötzi the Iceman's final meal

The frozen body was discovered in 1991 - more than 5,000 years after the hunter's death

Scientists discover details of Ötzi the Iceman's final meal

A replication of Otzi the Iceman. Picture by: Sven Hoppe/DPA/PA Images

Researchers have discovered details of the last meal eaten by a frozen hunter who died 5,300 years ago.

The body of the 'Iceman' - also known as Ötzi - was discovered in 1991 in the Italian Schnal Valley, on the border with Austria.

Ötzi - who is believed to have been murdered - has become one of the world's oldest and best preserved mummies.

He is said to have eaten his last meal between half an hour and two hours before his death.

Research - the findings of which have been published in the Current Biology journal - has found that the meal consisted of fresh or dried meat from red deer and a wild goat species known as ibex; einkorn wheat; and traces of toxic bracken leaf.

The meal has been described as a "balanced mix of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids" - a meal which scientists say is perfectly suited for those living in high-Alpine regions.

Frank Maixner, microbiologist at Eurac Researc, observed: "Ötzi seems to have been aware of the fact that fats represent an excellent source of energy.

"The high-Alpine region (3,210 m) where the Iceman lived and was found some 5,300 years after his death, presents a definite challenge for human physiology. It calls for an optimal supply of nutrients so as to avoid a sudden drop in energy."

The research has also helped establish some details of Copper Age food preparation - with the 'well preserved' meat suggesting it was 'air-dried or minimally heated' before consumption.

Previous studies have identified that the man suffered from parasites in his stomach.

Researchers now theorise that the bracken - toxic leaves fern still eaten by some indigenous peoples in Asia - may have been used as a remedy to relieve the pain caused by the parasites.

Albert Zink, director of the Institute for Mummy Studies at Eurac Research, noted: "It is also conceivable however that he had made use of the bracken leaves to wrap his food in and that traces of the plant inadvertently got into his food."

However, he added: "The Iceman’s last meal was a balanced mix of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids – perfectly suited to the demands of life in a high-Alpine region."