Neolithic Fashion from the Alps

icemanNo, No, not that chap from the X-Men, but rather a special chap called Otzi, who was found in the mountains, high up in a glacier here in 1991:

And looks a bit like this:

A 5,300 year-old (Neolithic) mummified corpse (nicknamed Otzi) found in the Austrian-Italian Alps in 1991 was discovered wearing “leggings, loincloth and jacket made of deer and goat hide; a cape made of grass and the bark of the linden tree; a hat of bearskin; shoes insulated with grass, with bearskin soles and goatskin uppers.” (McKie, Robin for The Observer Sunday May 4, 2003)

For those whom all the ‘-lithic’ periods get a bit muddled, this is about the time when human beans start figuring out agriculture, living in one place rather than being nomadic and starting your actual farming with a passion.  Those sharp-eyed among you, will have seen the fact that it’s described as the ‘Copper Age’ on the above map.  Same thing, different name 🙂

Back to yon chap and his natty clothing:

He was so well preserved when he was found, that initially the authorities understood him to be a recent murder victim and treated him as such, until they realised he was much older and the archaeologists were called in.

Otzi has a huge amount of information to give, some of which is still being investigated, including his tattoos, weaponry, cause of death, last meals, the contents of his frame rucksack, and clothing.  It’s the last one of those that I’m going to talk about a bit, as his clothes are well preserved and incredibly detailed.

The shirt was made of long, rectangular strips of skin that were joined by over-sewing on the inside, with animal sinews used as thread. The different colored vertical strips of skin may have been intended as a pattern.
No pieces of the shoulders of the garment were recovered, so there is some speculation as to whether the Iceman’s shirt had sleeves. The tunic likely reached down to the Iceman’s knees.

Originally about three feet long, the Iceman’s loincloth consisted of long, narrow strips of goat hide joined by over-sewing with animal sinews. The loincloth would have been drawn between the Iceman’s legs and fastened at the front and back with a belt.

The Iceman wore leg protection that covered the thighs and lower legs, therefore not really a pair of trousers. The leggings were made of goat hide with a deerskin strap sewn onto one end that could be tied down when doing up the shoes, preventing the leggings from riding up. Similar loincloths and leggings were also worn by North American Indians well into the 19th century.

When Iceman was recovered, the right shoe was still on the mummy’s foot. The shoe consists of an oval leather sole with turned up edges that were held in place using a leather thong. A woven net of grass was attached on the inside to hold hay in place acting as protection against the cold.

The Iceman’s shoe was closed with a leather upper that was attached to the sole using another leather thong. The shaft around the ankle was bound with grass filaments to prevent moisture from getting into his shoes. The soles of the shoes were made of brown bear skin. The uppers were make of deerskin and were closed using shoe laces.

Here is the original, with the inner on the right, and the stuffing and part of the outer shoe on the left:

and a reconstruction of the inner:

Since there are no sign of fasteners, it is assumed that the Iceman’s upper garment was closed with a belt. Fragments of the Iceman’s belt, made of calf leather, show that his belt was originally about six feet long, therefore reaching around his hips twice. A piece of sewn-on leather formed a small pouch that contained five items including a drill, scraper, and a flint flake. A black mass of tinder fungus filled most of the bag. Traces of pyrites were found indicating that lumps of pyrite were used by the Iceman to create sparks.

Bearskin Hat
Bearskin headgear was discovered during the second examination of the site. The Iceman’s cap was made of the pelt of a brown bear and had two leather thongs attached to the lower rim for the purpose of tying it under the chin.

Grass Cape
The Iceman’s cloak was made of long stalks of Alpine grass and was open at the front. The original length is thought to have been about 90 cm and would have covered the Iceman’s entire torso and his thighs. Some Alpine shepherds wore grass and straw cloaks for rain protection into the 20th century.

Altogether, the whole outfit looks a bit like this:

These clothes have been reconstructed with varying degrees of success, but the face that goes with them has also been recently re-reconstructed and updated to take account of the fierce academic debate on what colour his eyes were:

The mystery of Otzi still goes on, only last month scientists were able to extract blood cells from him, the oldest ones on record which are not degraded or collapsed:

And yes, for a scientist, that something to write home about 🙂

You can find out more from the museum in which he now resides, HERE


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