Oldest human blood cells: Discovered in 1991, the body of a man who was felled by an arrow in the Alps some 5,300 years ago still has intact red blood cells, scientists have discovered.
Scientists examining the remains of "Otzi," Italy's prehistoric iceman who roamed the Alps some 5,300 years ago, said on Thursday they have isolated what are believed to be the oldest traces of human blood ever found.
The German and Italian scientists said they used an atomic force microscope to examine tissue sections from a wound caused by an arrow that killed the Copper Age man, who was found frozen in a glacier, and from a laceration on his right hand.
"They really looked similar to modern-day blood samples," said Professor Albert Zink, 46, the German head of the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman at the European Academy in Bolzano, the capital of Italy's German-speaking Alto-Adige region.
"So far, this is the clearest evidence of the oldest blood cells," he said by telephone, adding that the new technique might now be used to examine mummies from Egypt.
The studies were carried out in conjunction with the Center for Smart Interfaces at Darmstadt Technical University in Germany and the Center for Nano Sciences in Munich.
Over the last two decades, scientists have collected data from the stomach, bowels and teeth of the well-preserved man, who was found protruding out of a glacier by German climbers in 1991 in the Tyrolean Alps on the Austrian-Italian border.
Otzi, whose nickname derives from the German word for the area where he was found, had brown hair and type-O blood and was believed to be 45 when he was felled by an arrow while climbing the high mountains some 5,300 years ago.
The nanotechnology instrument used by Zink and his team scans the surface of the tissue sections using a very fine probe, the scientists said in a summary of their report.