Paleo Plan

Otzi, The 5,300-Year-Old Mummy, Was Not Paleo

Otzi in his summer garbRecently, there was an incredibly poorly researched article from thedailymeal.com about Otzi, the mummified man who lived about 5,300 years ago. Otzi was discovered in the Otztal Alps near Italy in 1991 after being preserved by the snow since the day he died. It’s been discovered that he had “clogged arteries”, or arteriosclerosis, which can potentially lead to heart attack or stroke (but not always). The author of the article concluded, “Since coronary heart disease seems to predate potato chips and couch potatoes, heart health may be based more on genetics than diet, making heart disease more difficult to prevent. Bad news all around, we fear.”

Which makes you think, ‘Whoa, so eating Paleo DOES cause heart disease with all that meat after all! Maybe I should go back to eating McDonald’s.’ Because we assume that a guy that old, who was found with not much more than a copper axe and an arrow lodged in his shoulder, would be eating pretty Paleo. It turns out that’s not the case.

Otzi in his clothingActually, if you’re like me and you read anthropological accounts of primal people like they’re smut magazines, then you should check out the Wikipedia page on Otzi. It’s fascinating. This guy wore leather shoes that were so specialized that a Czech company wanted to make replicas of them and sell them to people. He was also found wearing leather leggings, a leather jacket, a leather loin cloth, leather belt, grass socks, a grass cloak, and carrying a fanny pack that housed antibacterial mushrooms and tools to make a fire. He also had tattoos on his back and leg. This guy was like a primeval Harley-Davidson fashion icon. But I digress.

Along with all of his belongings and awesome clothing, the researchers who’ve been studying his body over the last 20 years have discovered a lot of interesting things about his health and diet. His last two meals consisted of chamois meat, ibex meat, red deer meat, fruits and roots, and (wait for it…) einkorn wheat, and possibly some legumes. Other grains were found in his belongings, and the pollen in his mouth suggested he ate them regularly. He had considerable damage to his teeth from cavities (although he had all of his teeth), inflammation around his teeth, and arthritis. But it was SURELY genetics that caused all of this – not his regular consumption of grains and legumes. As a side note, the woman who wrote the article didn’t even get the cause of Otzi’s death right. She said he died of a head wound, but he actually died of an arrow wound to his subclavian artery. Just sayin’.

Here, here, and here are some more good articles on Otzi if you’re interested.

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2 Comments

  1. agreed, he was not eating paleo, nor living in the paleolithic period. but you write that someone might think – “Whoa, so People eating Paleo CAN actually get heart disease?”

    i don’t see what’s so wrong about that. i think we’re playing a numbers game here, we’re trying to reduce the chance that we get diseases of civilization like CHD. but to assume that this is an absolute – i.e., if you eat paleo you will not get heart disease – smacks of folly. best we can do is reduce probability. you can be genetically predisposed to this stuff.

    • Jakey – Thanks for catching that. I reworded it because I think you’re totally right. I should’ve edited it better before I posted it. Thanks again!

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