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Oldest human blood cells found in “Otzi” by Italian Scientists


A group of Italian scientists have found the oldest human blood cells in an ‘iceman mummy’ known as “Otzi”.

Scientists examined the remains of “Otzi,” Italy’s prehistoric iceman who roamed the Alps some 5,300 years ago. In their research through isolation by using an atomic force microscope to examine tissue sections, they were surprised to discover what are believed to be the oldest traces of human blood ever found.

Previous attempts to find blood cells in Otzi’s aorta were unsuccessful. However, this latest effort yielded results when they located human blood cells in an arrow wound on his back and from a laceration on his right hand. It is believed that this wound caused his death.

“They really looked similar to modern-day blood samples,” said Professor Albert Zink, 46, who heads the German Institute for Mummies. “So far, this is the clearest evidence of the oldest blood cells. Up to now, there had been uncertainty about how long blood could survive, let alone what human blood cells from the Chalcolithic period — the Copper Stone Age — might look like,” he added.

In addition, Zink found that the human red blood cells found in Otzi’s arrow wound which was believed to be the oldest of its kind have the classic “donut shape” that is seen in healthy humans today. The wound also contained fibrin, a protein involved in blood clotting.

“Because fibrin is present in fresh wounds and then degrades, the theory that Otzi died straight after he had been injured by the arrow, as had once been suggested, and not some days after can no longer be upheld,” Zink said.

Otzi had brown hair and type-O human blood and was believed to be 45 when he was felled by an arrow while climbing the high mountains some 5,300 years ago.

To be certain that the specimens they were examining were blood and not pollen, the scientists used a second analytical method known as the Raman spectroscopy method where they used a laser beam to illuminate a tissue sample and analysis of the spectrum of the scattered light which permitted the identification of various molecules.

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