Researchers discovered intact red blood cells in the body of Ötzi the Iceman, a world-famous once-frozen natural mummy found in the Alps in 1991. Livescience called them the “world’s oldest blood cells.”1 But clear evidence shows that other blood cells hold the real record.

Forensic researchers have gleaned a wealth of information about the Tyrolean Iceman, commonly known as Ötzi. For example, chemical traces show places he had recently been, tiny particles revealed his last meal of red deer and bread, and his boots were likely made by an ancient professional bootmaker. An arrowhead had lodged in his left shoulder, damaging an artery and likely causing his death. Just this year, geneticists sequenced his DNA, finding that modern inhabitants of the Mediterranean’s Corsica have the most similar sequences.2

Now, scientists discovered intact red blood cells in tissue samples from a wound that his hand suffered, as well as the arrow wound to the chest. Their research appeared in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, where the authors wrote “It was initially assumed that the blood had disintegrated owing to autolysis within the corpse.”2 Autolysis is the process where oxygen, which is especially abundant within oxygen-carrying red blood cells, reacts with and fragments the proteins that comprise cells. Few, if any, expected that red blood cells could have persisted within Ötzi for perhaps thousands of years until today….

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