DNA Analysis Reveals the Fashion Sense of a 5,300-Year-Old Mummy

Here’s your fashion guide to the Copper Age.

Aug 21 2016, 9:00pm

It's said that fashion is cyclical, and that the styles of past decades are inevitably revived for new generations. But for a truly original look, trendsters should dig deeper than the neon spandex tones of the 1980s or the flower child garb of the 1960s. Why not channel the tropes of an even simpler time, beyond the flapper-dressed Jazz Age and into the Copper Age, some 5,300 years ago?

Introducing the newest oldest look in the book, pioneered by Ötzi, aka the Iceman, who rocked it right into his icy grave in the Ötztal Alps around 3,300 BCE. First discovered by mountaineers in 1991, Ötzi is Europe's oldest known natural mummy, and one of the most exquisitely preserved human specimens preserved from the Copper Age.

Now, his wardrobe has been reconstructed in unprecedented detail in the latest issue of Scientific Reports. The outfit: Sheepskin loincloth and goat-leather leggings, accessorized with a bear fur hat, a deerskin quiver, a grass-string backback, and some hay-stuffed shoes to round it out. Weaponry, tools, and extensive body tattoos are recommended for optimal veracity.

The result: Iceman Chic, a look as timeless as Ötzi himself.

Assorted accessories in Iceman's wardrobe. Image: Institute for Mummies and the Iceman

According to one of the new study's co-authors, archeologist Ron Pinhasi of the University College, Dublin, comprehensive DNA analysis of the Iceman's clothing reveals that he was "pretty picky" about his threads.

"To me it seems pretty sophisticated in terms of the capacities to use so many different materials from different animals," Pinhasi told the Guardian.

Indeed, the new study unearthed new details about Ötzi's fashion sense, including the first evidence that his quiver of arrows was hewn from the hides of roe deer. The mix of domestic and wild animal origins in his getup raises new questions about the creation and myriad functions of Copper Age clothing.

"The Iceman's garments and quiver are from an assemblage of at least five different species of animal," the new study points out. "The coat alone was a combination of at least four hides and two species: goat and sheep. This result may indicate a haphazard stitching together of clothing based upon materials that were available to the Iceman, as ancient rudimentary leather is posited to rapidly deteriorate after manufacture."

"However, the leggings were composed of goat leather, which was also used in the manufacture of a 4,500-year-old leggings from Schnidejoch, Switzerland," the authors continue. "This result lends support to the idea that Copper Age individuals in the Alpine region selected species for specific attributes when manufacturing clothing. This may also indicate a functional choice of material based on flexibility or insulating potential."

In other words, it's unclear whether the Iceman was more of an improvisational fashionista who worked with whatever he could find, or if there was some grander significance behind his preference for blended materials—be it functional, aesthetic, or even religious.

One thing's for certain though: This was literally a killer look. After Ötzi's frozen body was exhumed from its alpine grave, scientists found evidence that he had been shot deep with an arrow, wounded in recent hand-to-hand combat, and beaten over the head.

It seems the Iceman met with a violent and mysterious end. But damn if he didn't go out with style.