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Joseph Kaminski

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November 23, 2017

Cold Case: Ötzi the Iceman


Ötzi the Iceman is perhaps the most internationally recognized and well-known example of a non-Egyptian mummified figure. His mysterious life and death is the perfect example of being able to understand an entire eradicated culture through the remains of a single individual. Ötzi was discovered in September of 1991 by tourists who were hiking the Ötzal Alps on the Austrian-Italian border; and although his nickname was drafted from the mountains his body was discovered on thousands of years too late, Ötzi was once a living and breathing human male. It is said that he lived around 3,300 BCE – with one scientific study narrowing him down somewhere between a death-date down to a period of around 160 years.[1] While the year may be up for grabs, pollen and foliage within the body and the body’s belonging makes it clear that he died in “early summer.” It can become easy for modern men and women to feel disconnected with such an ‘ancient’ example of humanity, but Ötzi gives us an insight as to how mankind lived, breathed, and survived in a world with very few references: the “Copper Age” of European culture.

Ötzi, unlike the original Egyptian mummies that are dated from around 3,500 BCE, wasn’t mummified on purpose. Ötzi’s culture didn’t mummify the remains of people as the Egyptians did. He was naturally mummified thanks to the icy conditions that surrounded his unceremonious death bed. Ötzi, nor his attackers, had the mindset of preserving him – and it appears that his entire 5,000+ year adventure after death is entirely based on chance and luck. He is now a wet mummy. From death to discovery, the entire mummification process was left up to nature; and nature was lenient enough to let us get a literal inside look at the man. According to the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, “the body dehydrated”[2] after falling into the snow and ice of the mountains. This can also be comparatively unique towards the Egyptian mummies, as Ötzi’s organs remained intact within the body.

Ötzi’s mysterious case has led to several scientific analyses on his body, belongings, and situation. He has been examined on almost every level in order to be dated and in hopes of being better understood. One of these scientific analyses identified the contents of his stomach. Two meals, one only hours or so into digestion, were discovered and analyzed. Goat, deer, grains, roots, and fruits were found mixed within his stomach, and further study analyzed the diet of people of the time. I personally believe that this is the most interesting study on Ötzi, as it gave us an even further insight of day-to-day life in the time-period that many people tend to not think of. What we eat doesn’t seem unnatural, but in 5,000 years people would probably be interested to know what we ate compared to other civilizations. Other scientific studies identified his current height (1.54m), weight (13kg), and the health problems that plagued him as a living being. [3]

Ötzi most likely died from blood loss, as identified by an x-ray/CT scan in 2001. An arrowhead had lodged itself near his left shoulder, tearing through his clothes and weakening his already less-than-alright health. The South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy (where his body and belongings have been displayed under a glass container[4]) believes that he was murdered – but it is still puzzling as to why his supposed murderers left the dead man with all his belongings.[5]

Will we ever know the exact story behind Ötzi’s mysterious death? Most likely not. But through anthropological and archaeological studies, we can get as close to Ötzi’s world as we possibly can.

Read a similar article: “Mystery Meat” and the Explorer’s Club

[1] Bonani, Georges, Susan D. Ivy, Irena Hajdas, Thomas R. Niklaus, and Martin Suter. “Ams 14C Age Determinations of Tissue, Bone and Grass Samples from the Ötztal Ice Man.” Radiocarbon 36, no. 2 (1994): 247–50. doi:10.1017/S0033822200040534.

[2] Ötzi - The mummy in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology." South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. http://www.iceman.it/en/the-mummy/.

[3] Ötzi - The mummy in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology." South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. http://www.iceman.it/en/the-mummy/. “A few key data”

[4] Kostyukov, Dmitry. The mummy on display at the museum. There are a few mummies in the world as old, but none so well preserved. Digital image. New York Times. March 26, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/26/world/europe/bolzano-italy-iceman-south-tyrol-museum-of-archaeology.html?em_pos=medium&emc=edit_sc_20170327&nl=science-times&nl_art=4&nlid=76811190&ref=headline&te=1.

[5] Ötzi - The mummy in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology." South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. http://www.iceman.it/en/the-mummy/. “Circumstances of Ötzi’s death”

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One Response “Cold Case: Ötzi the Iceman”

  1. barry wax
    October 21, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    Somehow we believe that disturbing the graves of the old is okay. But we allow many graveyards to go to seed. And we sue if someone places the wrong dead body into the wrong grave.

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