Identification of ancient biological samples from the 1991-discovered and more than 5300-year-old Tyrolean mummy, also called iceman or Oetzi, is very difficult. The species of origins of four animal-hair-bearing samples of the accoutrement of the mummy not yet diagnosed were identified by a special proteomics method. Ha 43/91/130 and Ha 6/91, two samples from his coat, and Ha 5/91, a sample from his leggings, were assigned to sheep. The upper leather of his moccasins, Ha 2/91, was made from cattle. Despite the enormous age of these samples with partial (bio)chemical alterations, reliable identification was possible using a recently developed matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometric ((MALDI-TOF MS)-based analytical method. The method is exclusively based on the analysis of proteins and uses minute amounts of peptides directly derived from tryptic hair digests without any separation or enrichment steps. Unknown species are identified by comparison of their peptide ion patterns with known spectra stored in existing databases. Hereby, the correlation distance, a form of Euclidean distance, and deduced parameters are used to measure similarities.
If more than one potential hit remains, specific diagnostic peptide ions are used to stepwise exclude incorrect matches. These ions are specific for orders, families, subfamilies/genera and/or even species. Peptide mass fingerprinting data combined with those from collision-induced dissociation spectra (combined MS & MS/MS) were used for interpretation with the MASCOT search engine and the NCBI database to find the potential parentage of hair proteins. For this technique, selected precursor ions were identified as specific diagnostic peptide ions. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.