Using light to describe the ancient world

The skin of Ötzi the Iceman is in excellent condition according to Raman spectroscopy. Image from Wikipedia (details below).

Ötzi the Iceman was a man of distinction during the Copper Age; a possible village chief. He may have been powerful, but Ötzi was mortal, and was likely felled by a flint arrowhead. Buried in the Ötztal Alps, Ötzi was preserved for 5300 years and discovered in 1991. Ötzi has since been exhumed and has provided a window into European culture and civilisation during the Copper Age. A recent study by Janko and colleagues (2010) examined Ötzi using Atomic force microscopy and Raman spectroscopy. Raman spectra of skin gave remarkable results: the collagen in Ötzi’s 5300 year old skin is completely intact. Collagen in living animals is made by twisting chains of smaller molecules around each other to form a helix. Collagen rapidly degrades after death (geologically speaking), and the helix unwinds and the chains break apart. Raman spectroscopy showed that Ötzi’s collagen retains its helical conformation – Ötzi was snap frozen, which is why he is still with us today.

Janko M, Zink A, Gigler AM, Heckl WM, Stark RW (2010) Nanostructure and mechanics of mummified type I collagen from the 5300-year-old Tyrolean Iceman. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.0377

Image: Iceman

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