Italian scientists announced that the 5,300-year-old mummy named Ötzi, Italy’s prehistoric iceman, had intact blood cells and these are considered the oldest human blood cells ever identified.
Professor Albert Zink, the German head of the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman at the European Academy in Bolzano, Italy, told Reuters that the red blood cells “really looked similar to modern-day blood samples” and had a classic doughnut shape seen in healthy people today.
The new discovery also confirmed that Otzi died quickly and not after a few days as had been previously thought because traces of fibrin, a blood-clotting protein, was found in the wound where the arrow entered Otzi’s back.
“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.
According to the study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the recovery and analysis of blood cells from ancient tissues are important for medical studies. In forensics, blood analyses represent a crucial part of crime scene investigations.
“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,” Zink said in the news release.
“It is very interesting to see that the red blood cells can last for such a long time,” Zink told Reuters.
“This will also open up possibilities for forensic science and may help lead to a more precise determination of the age of blood spots in crime investigations,” he added.