Scientists Analyze Ötzi the Iceman's Animal Skin Clothing

Europe's oldest known natural human mummy, Ötzi the Iceman, led a pretty hard life. Ötzi died roughly 5300 years ago—likely from an arrow to the back—and experts who examined his body say he suffered from a range of health problems, including a bacteria-infected gut, gallstones, parasitic worms, and maybe even Lyme disease. But right before Ötzi perished, he was at least wearing a warm outfit, National Geographic reports: a bear fur hat, goatskin leggings, and an overcoat made of sheep and goat hides, among other snug items.

This new knowledge comes courtesy of researchers from the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman at the European Research Academy in Bolzano, Italy. Using sophisticated new DNA analysis techniques, they collected and tested genetic data from Ötzi’s ensemble to find out what animals his clothing was made from. They recently published their findings in the journal Scientific Reports.

For years, the specifics of Ötzi’s ensemble were largely a mystery. Two German tourists discovered the now-famous mummy in 1991 as they were hiking the Ötzal Alps (which inspired his name) that straddle the Austrian-Italian border. Ötzi’s well-preserved body yielded scientists a wealth of knowledge, but his garments were too damaged to analyze using standard DNA analysis. And while a 2008 study revealed that some of the hair from the mummy’s clothing came from domesticated animals, Live Science points out, experts didn’t know which ones they were.

“Just based on the hair or just based on the type of leather, it’s not easy sometimes to come down to the species level,” study co-author Frank Maixner, a microbiologist, told Smithsonian. “It was clear to have a little bit more insight, we had to go for the DNA.”

Gathering ancient DNA markers was tricky, as the researchers had to consider the possibility that the leather had been treated during Ötzi’s lifetime. Researchers may have also contaminated or damaged the genetic materials over the years. But in the end, they were able to pinpoint ancient DNA markers in nine samples of leather and fur taken from six clothing items.

According to The Guardian, the Iceman used at least five different species of animal to create his clothes. Scientists had previously concluded that Ötzi’s hide coat was made from sheepskin, but they now know it was fashioned from both sheep and goat. The sheep species is closely related to modern domestic European sheep, while the goat hide was harvested from a domestic animal whose descendants still live in central Europe. Researchers think that Ötzi’s coat was likely fashioned from (and possibly patched up with) whatever hides he had access to at the time. 

As for the Iceman’s leggings, they ended up being sewn from domesticated goat leather—not wolf, fox, or dog, as scientists had once suspected. Goatskin might have been more supple than other materials, allowing him to walk with ease. Meanwhile, the shoelaces in his cow leather shoes were crafted from auroch, or wild cattle. 

Not all of Ötzi’s clothing items came from domesticated animals: The fur came from brown bear and Ötzi’s arrow quiver was fashioned from roe deer. This indicates that the prehistoric man might have traded or hunted and trapped for game.

We’ll likely never know whether Ötzi sewed the garments himself or how he obtained their materials. But considering that scientists have identified everything from his last meal to 19 of his living relatives in Austria, it’s safe to assume that the Iceman will continue to reveal even more secrets as time goes by.

[h/t National Geographic]

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MARS Bioimaging
The World's First Full-Color 3D X-Rays Have Arrived
MARS Bioimaging
MARS Bioimaging

The days of drab black-and-white, 2D X-rays may finally be over. Now, if you want to see what your broken ankle looks like in all its full-color, 3D glory, you can do so thanks to new body-scanning technology. The machine, spotted by BGR, comes courtesy of New Zealand-based manufacturer MARS Bioimaging.

It’s called the MARS large bore spectral scanner, and it uses spectral molecular imaging (SMI) to produce images that are fully colorized and in 3D. While visually appealing, the technology isn’t just about aesthetics—it could help doctors identify issues more accurately and provide better care.

Its pixel detectors, called “Medipix” chips, allow the machine to identify colors and distinguish between materials that look the same on regular CT scans, like calcium, iodine, and gold, Buzzfeed reports. Bone, fat, and water are also differentiated by color, and it can detect details as small as a strand of hair.

“It gives you a lot more information, and that’s very useful for medical imaging. It enables you to do a lot of diagnosis you can’t do otherwise,” Phil Butler, the founder/CEO of MARS Bioimaging and a physicist at the University of Canterbury, says in a video. “When you [have] a black-and-white camera photographing a tree with its leaves, you can’t tell whether the leaves are healthy or not. But if you’ve got a color camera, you can see whether they’re healthy leaves or diseased.”

The images are even more impressive in motion. This rotating image of an ankle shows "lipid-like" materials (like cartilage and skin) in beige, and soft tissue and muscle in red.

The technology took roughly a decade to develop. However, MARS is still working on scaling up production, so it may be some time before the machine is available commercially.

[h/t BGR]

ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017
Look Closely—Every Point of Light in This Image Is a Galaxy
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017

Even if you stare closely at this seemingly grainy image, you might not be able to tell there’s anything to it besides visual noise. But it's not static—it's a sliver of the distant universe, and every little pinprick of light is a galaxy.

As Gizmodo reports, the image was produced by the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, a space-based infrared telescope that was launched into orbit in 2009 and was decommissioned in 2013. Created by Herschel’s Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE) and Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS), it looks out from our galaxy toward the North Galactic Pole, a point that lies perpendicular to the Milky Way's spiral near the constellation Coma Berenices.

A close-up of a view of distant galaxies taken by the Herschel Space Observatory
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017

Each point of light comes from the heat of dust grains between different stars in a galaxy. These areas of dust gave off this radiation billions of years before reaching Herschel. Around 1000 of those pins of light belong to galaxies in the Coma Cluster (named for Coma Berenices), one of the densest clusters of galaxies in the known universe.

The longer you look at it, the smaller you’ll feel.

[h/t Gizmodo]


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