Scientists Find Oldest Blood on Record on Otzi the Iceman

The team found red blood cells on the mummy over 20 years after he was found in the Alps

By Sam Schulz
|  Wednesday, May 2, 2012  |  Updated 9:36 AM CDT
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Scientists say they have found red blood cells — the oldest ever spotted — on the 5,300-year-old mummified body of Ötzi the iceman.

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The iceman bleedeth.

Scientists have discovered the oldest red blood cells ever observed on the 5,300-year-old mummified body of iceman Ötzi, they said in a study published Wednesday.

Almost a decade ago, the team of scientists from the Eurac Institute for Mummies and the Iceman found the blood protein hemoglobin around the site of a wound on Ötzi's hand, confirming that there had been a blood clot there, they wrote in a study published in 2003 in The Lancet.

But according to BBC News, it had long been presumed that red blood cells could not have been preserved as the hemoglobin was. Earlier scans had shown no such cells.

The new finding of red blood cells represented a breakthrough in the team's understanding of the last moments of Ötzi, whose body hikers found in the Italian Alps over 20 years ago with an arrow in its back.

The team also observed another blood-related protein, fibrin, in their new tests.

That discovery torpedoed the team's earlier hypothesis that Ötzi had lived for several days after being struck by the arrow that killed him, according to study leader Albert Zink, because fibrin is present in fresh wounds and then degrades.

His team used nano-scale methods, including an atomic force microscope, to view tiny samples of Ötzi's blood and identify corpuscles with the classic blood cell doughnut shape.

To confirm that the shapes were those of blood cells, they used Raman spectroscopy to identify the hemoglobin and fibrin, key components of blood clotting.

The team had previously determined minute details of Ötzi's life from his well-preserved body — pinning his age at 45, his height at 5 feet 3 inches and his weight at 110 pounds. His hair and eyes were likely brown, and he was probably allergic to milk, according to Discovery News.

The mummy's full genome was

published in February

.

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