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International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms
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ISSN Imprimer: 1521-9437
ISSN En ligne: 1940-4344

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International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms

DOI: 10.1615/IntJMedMushrooms.v7.i3.190
pages 357-359

The Ice Man's Fungi: Facts and Mysteries

Reinhold Poder
Institute of Microbiology, University of Innsbruck, Technikerstrasse 25, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria


The discovery of a Neolithic corpse in 1991 in an Alpine glacial field, near the Austrian–Italian border, attracted worldwide attention. The finding’s circumstances and the recovery of the mummy proved to be quite chaotic: it took five days for the corpse and most of the artifacts found with it to be transferred to a lab of forensic medicine in Innsbruck, the capital of Tyrol. During this time (September 19–24, 1991) the Neolithic origin of the corpse was unknown, and at least 22 different persons came into contact with it (Egg and Spindler, 1993). Many of the artifacts, some damaged by the visitors, were carelessly thrown into a garbage bag and brought to Vent, the next mountain village. Therefore, the exact original position of these artefacts (including fungal objects) could not be reconstructed.
Today, we know that the real age of the so-called “Ice Man” ranges, according to nine independent radiocarbon measurements, between 3350 and 3100 BC (Prinoth-Fornwagner and Niklaus, 1995). Among the numerous items of the Ice Man’s equipment were three fungal objects: two different shaped, polypore-like fungal fragments, each mounted separately on a leather thong; and a mysterious “black matter,” filling up the major part of his “girdle bag.” The black matter, which was first thought to be resin representing part of a prehistoric repair kit (Lippert and Spindler 1991; Egg and Spindler 1993), was later shown to be tinder material prepared from the true tinder bracket Fomes fomentarius (L.: Fr.) Fr. (Sauter and Stachelberger 1992; Poder et al., 1995; Peintner et al., 1998). The two whitish, polypore-like objects—one shaped more or less like a Scots pine cone, the other more spheroidal—were identified as fruitbody fragments of the polypore Piptoporus betulinus (Bull.: Fr.) P.Karst. (Poder et al., 1992; Peintner et al., 1998).
So far, this represents the only case in which mushrooms were obviously part of a prehistoric person’s equipment; it fi red the imagination not only of the public and the media but also of scientists. Due to a general fever of excitement, facts have often been mixed up with fictions.

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