Iceman could help clothing industry stick to new EU law

Technology that has resolved long-standing questions about the lifestyle of Oetzi, the neolithic ‘iceman’ whose remains were discovered in an Alpine glacier in 1991, could have useful applications for today’s clothing manufacturers, German researchers have claimed.

Oetzi’s social and cultural background, has been the subject of much debate over the past 17 years. Although his clothes were known to be made of animal skins, their exact origin was uncertain.

Now scientists at Saarland University have used MALDITOF mass spectrometry to analyse hairs taken from the iceman’s coat, leggings and moccasin shoes. Comparing the patterns of peptides of fermented proteins present in the 5000 year old samples with those of modern day animals, showed that Oetzi's coat and leggings were made from sheep's fur, whilst his moccasins were of cattle origin.

This supports the theory that the Iceman was a herdsman, said lead researcher Klaus Hollemeyer. “We found that the hairs came from sheep and cattle, just the types of animals that herdsmen care for during their seasonal migrations,” said

Reporting their work in the journal Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, the researchers suggest that as the technique is faster and more reliable than DNA-based alternatives, it could have use in the modern clothing industry.

“This method could, for example, be used in checking the purity of products made from animal hair, such as pullovers and jackets made of Cashmere wool,” said Hollemeyer. “I think that a major field of application will be to help manufacturers abide by the European Union law concerning the ban of dog and cat fur trade next year.”

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