Oldest blood sample found in ‘Ötzi’

Oldest blood sample found in ‘Ötzi’

The Ice man, also know as Ötzi, does not stop revealing things to scientists. The 5,300-year-old mummy was found embedded in the ice of the Ötztal Alps in 1991 and, from then until now, has provided a wealth of information about the ancient man. His last gifts are two: red blood cells preserved in a handkerchief around his arrow wound and a laceration In his hand.

The first scanners to be performed look for blood on Ötzi's body they were unsuccessful because the cells degrade relatively quickly after death. To overcome this setback, the researchers used an atomic microscope to examine the surface of the tissue samples.

This procedure consists of a small probe, just a few atoms thick, that is moved through the sample. Sensors linked to the probe follow movements, detecting even the smallest irregularities on the surface and creating a high-definition three-dimensional map. The result was immediate and found molecules with the classic size and shape of healthy blood cells.

The Raman spectroscopy method it was used to confirm that the cells found were blood. To do this, a laser illuminates the handkerchief and analysis of the resulting fractional light spectrum identifies the molecules. If the cells had been pollen or some other substance, the researchers might have known.

Instead, the method revealed the existence of the characteristic bands of hemoglobin. They had a weaker magnitude than the bands offered by fresh blood, indicating the decrease in hemoglobin with the degradation of cells. Apart from this wear, the molecules are in a perfect state of conservation. The director of the Institute of Mummies and the Iceman at the European Academy in Bolzano (Italy), Albert Zink commented that they seemed “very similar to modern blood samples"And that it is" very interesting "to see how blood cells can"last so long”.

The laser also found fibrin, a protein found in fresh wounds that helps blood clot. This protein is only present in fresh lacerations, which confirms that Ötzi died shortly after being shot by the arrow and refutes the previous theory that he would have died several days later.

Till the date, the blood found in Ötzi is the oldest sample available to researchers. Therefore, according to Zink, the new technique will be used to “examine the mummies of EgyptIn search of even older blood. For the researcher this new method has opened up new possibilities in forensic science: "It can help us to arrive at a more accurate determination of the time that the drops of blood have in the crimes”.

Passionate about History, he has a degree in Journalism and Audiovisual Communication. Since he was little he loved history and ended up exploring the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries above all.


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