Digging Deeper by Eric H. Cline

Digging Deeper by Eric H. Cline

Author:Eric H. Cline [Cline, Eric H.]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9780691208572
Publisher: PrincetonUP
Published: 2020-08-20T00:00:00+00:00



In this “Digging Deeper” chapter, I will briefly try to answer questions like these: “How do we know what they ate, what they wore, and what they looked like?” as well as “How do we know what their environment was like?” In other words, how are we able to approach reconstructing what life was like for a person living at a particular time and in a particular place in the ancient world?

* * *

Sometimes it’s very—or relatively—easy to know what people ate in antiquity and even what they looked like while they were alive. For example, because of the conditions in the bog where Lindow Man lay for all those centuries, as described in the previous chapter, his skin and hair are very well preserved, including his beard and mustache. His fingernails are also so well preserved that we can tell they were manicured. Some of his internal organs are also preserved; they contain parts of what was probably his last meal, including a piece of unleavened bread made from wheat and barley, which had been cooked over a fire.1 Similarly, because Tollund Man’s stomach and intestines were preserved, the archaeologists who were called in to examine him were also able to do analyses and to determine that his last meal had been a sort of porridge.2

However, among such accidentally preserved bodies, Ötzi the Iceman has turned out to be the most important. The scientific discoveries, emerging one after the other, have been published in a series of peer-reviewed and prestigious journals, including Science, the Journal of Archaeological Science, and The Lancet.

Among the discoveries that were made, scientists determined that Ötzi had brown hair and deep-set brown eyes, a beard, and sunken cheeks. He was probably about five feet, two inches tall and weighed about 110 pounds at the time of his death, which occurred when he was between forty and fifty years old. The strontium isotopes in his tooth enamel, which can be used to determine where people lived during their childhood years, indicate that he probably spent his whole life near where he died, within a sixty-kilometer radius and most likely in a nearby valley in Italy.3

Ötzi’s lungs were blackened, probably from inhaling smoke from campfires, either inside caves or outdoors. He suffered from tooth decay and had been ill several times in the months just before he died. Scientists and archaeologists were able to analyze the contents of his intestines, including pollen, which indicated that he had probably died in late spring or early summer. His last meal included red deer meat, bread made from einkorn, and some plums. In addition, his second-to-last meal included ibex meat, cereals, and various other plants.4

In 2016 scientists who were continuing to study the contents of Ötzi’s stomach also announced that they had mapped the genome of the oldest known pathogen, a bacterium named H. pylori that can cause ulcers. The bacterium may provide a clue to human migration


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