Quill and Ink Ötzi, the Iceman
Killed in mountain region of Austria/Italy

c. 5300 B.C.

Austrian Alps

The Iceman
"Ötzi," the Iceman
On September 19, 1991, in the remote mountains on the border of Austria and Italy, hikers stumbled upon the corpse of a 5,300 year-old man. Dubbed "Ötzi," this perfectly preserved iceman is the oldest human ever found. But who was he and how did he die?

After nearly tens years of careful study scientist didn't have a clue until, by chance, a dark spot on an X-ray was given a closer look. To everyone's surprise the spot turned out to be an arrowhead, still embedded in Ötzi's left shoulder. The researchers now know that Iceman was killed by an assassin from behind using a bow and arrow.

Investigators determine that the dead man was in his 40s, had numerous tattoos and possessed appropriately warm clothing for this hostile environment. And indeed, he may have died after a violent clash.

The Arrow Wound
Arrow Wound
But this was no crime statistic. Rather, this man lived 5,300 years ago. He is the oldest and best-preserved natural mummy ever found, so protected by the cold that researchers can determine how he lived, where he came from, what ailed him, what he ate for his last meal, and what ultimately must have killed him.

The man lived and died before recorded human history. But the story written in his clothes, tools, skin, hair -- and even inside his immaculately preserved body -- will revolutionize how we view our ancestors from the Stone Age.

Scientists were surprised to find 59 markings that were clearly tattoos on Ötzi's skin. They were even more surprised that the back and leg tattoos were on or near typical acupuncture points for treating back and leg pain. X-rays showed evidence of osteoarthrosis in Ötzi that might have responded to acupuncture.

But there's a problem with this theory: Acupuncture is believed to have originated in China 2,000 to 3,000 years ago. But because of Ötzi, some scientists now think that acupuncture (or at least an acupuncture type of medical system) was practiced 5,300 years ago a long, long way from China.

It now looks probable that acupuncture or something like it arose simultaneously in different cultures, indicating that prehistoric populations may have had a deep, possibly intuitive knowledge of the body.

Copper Axe
Copper Axe
Copper axe
One of the most stunning discoveries in Ötzi's possession was a copper axe. Why? Scientists had long believed that humans in Italy were melting and shaping copper with such precision only about 4,000 years ago -- more than 500 years after Ötzi lived.

In addition, analysis of Ötzi's hair seems to indicate that he did much copper work himself. Truly, this mummy is forcing archaeologists to revisit what should be considered the Copper Age.

The handle of Ötzi's axe was 2 feet long and made of yew wood. The blade was less than 4 inches long, its edge slightly curved with small points at its tips. The blank of the blade was cast. This means some quantity of metal was melted in a thick-walled ceramic pot by heating it with a bellows to at least 1,100 degrees Celsius, then poured into a mold.

Surface analysis of the axe head shows the metal is 99.7 percent copper, 0.22 percent arsenic, and 0.09 percent silver. Arsenic and silver trace elements mean the blade was probably made of copper from a local source.

Iceman's clothing
Scraps of Clothing
w/ sketch of cloak
Scientists were surprised not only by the warmth of Ötzi's clothing, but also by the quality of its construction.

The iceman was found nude, but he had with him three layers of finely stitched clothes: Leather and fur from domestic and wild animals provided most of his wardrobe. The outer layer was a woven grass cape or cloak.

The grass cloak was open in front and may have had slits for his arms. It was braided from long grasses and would have provided a level of water repellence over his fur clothing and gear. The cloak may have also been used as a ground cloth or a blanket.

Up from his shoes he was covered with leather leggings that fit loosely around his thighs and attached to his belt.

This is the first well-preserved evidence of Neolithic clothes for researchers.

Bear Fur Hat (Image below)
On his head, the iceman wore a tall cap made of individually cut pieces of bear fur. It included leather straps, which might have served as a chin strap.

Cloak (See image of Scraps of Clothing)
The braided grass cloak was open in front and may have had slits for his arms.

Leggins (Image below)
Up from his shoes, the iceman was covered with leather leggings that fit loosely around his thighs and attached to his belt.

Dagger (Image below)
It's clear from the gear on and around Ötzi that he not only was a skilled craftsman, but knew very much about the proper material for the proper job. He carried a little flint-tipped dagger with a handle made of ash, a wood that is still used today by artisans to make strong handles for implements.

The dagger had twin cutting edges, and Ötzi would have carried it attached to his waist. It was found inside a finely braided scabbard.

The dagger would have been used as a multipurpose tool, but often to skin animals, clean hides and cut meat into strips.

Iceman's Arrows
Iceman's Arrows
Broken Arrows
Ötzi 's fur quiver, where he kept his rosewood arrows, contained 12 blank shafts and two finished arrows, which were broken.

The iceman's bow and arrows have been the subject of considerable speculation among the experts who have studied his remains. The fact that he carried mostly broken arrows and a bow under construction (but no usable bow in his possession) has led to theories that Ötzi had recently met with a violent encounter -- either with other humans or a wild animal and perhaps had fled high into the mountains in retreat.

They assume that he found a suitable piece of wood from an evergreen yew trunk and was working on it at night while resting at camp. Perhaps he was even working on it before falling asleep the night he died.

His bow was more than 6 feet long. The yew wood from which he worked was ideal for bow-making; it's tough and elastic, almost never splinters and has no resin. The quiver contained two arrows ready to be shot (with flint arrowheads), 12 partly finished arrow shafts, a coiled string, four bundled stag-antler fragments, an antler point and two bundled animal sinews. The antler fragments could have been used to carve at least eight arrowheads, although the completed arrowheads were carved from flint, which was probably the preferred material.

The Iceman's Body
On September 19, 1991, Ötzi (the name given him by scientists) was found at about 10,500 feet in the Öztal Alps on the border between Austria and Italy. His body was so well-preserved that the hikers who found him and the first investigators assumed he had been dead for a relatively short time.

So archaeologists were not immediately consulted, and Ötzi remained frozen on the mountain for four more days, his upper body protruding from a glacier. The lag allowed curious onlookers to poke around, including one member of the Alpine Rescue Service, who inadvertently damaged the left hip and buttock with a pneumatic hammer, trying to dig the corpse from the ground.

As Ötzi's body began to thaw from its icy grave, it became apparent that this was no modern European. About 5 feet 4 inches tall, possessing three layers of furs and grass clothes, he had well-lined shoes, a belt from which to drape his loincloth and suspend his leggings, a jacket, a cape and a bearskin hat.

Today, Ötzi resides in a cold-storage vault in the Archaeological Museum of Bolzano* in Italy. The vault temperature remains at a constant -6 C, with a relative humidity of 96 to 98 percent. For investigational purposes the body is removed from storage and put in a laminar flow box for no longer than 11 minutes at a time.

Iceman's Fur Hat
Iceman's Fur Hat
Iceman's Arrows
Iceman's Leggings


Iceman's Arrows
Iceman's Dagger

See Also: Update, March 20, 2002

SOURCE: * Web site, Archaeological Museum, Bolzano, Italy
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