The Iceman "Ötzi"

After many years of investigation by highly-specialized research teams, the mummy recovered from the glacier and the accompanying artefacts are now accessible to the public in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology.

Within the overall historical framework, the Iceman ("Ötzi"), and his accompanying artifacts occupy a central position in the exhibition area.

More than 5,000 years ago, a man ascended the icy heights of the Schnalstal valley glacier and died there. In 1991, his mortal remains - together with his clothing and equipment, mummified and frozen - were accidentally discovered. This was an archaeological sensation providing a unique glimpse into the life of a man of the Chalcolithic Period who was travelling at high altitudes.

The news of a sensational archaeological discovery went around the world on 19th September, 1991 following the discovery of the mummified remains of a 5,300 year-old man on the Hauslabjoch saddle which marks the border between the Schnalstal and Ötztal valleys. It was released from the glacier after five millenniums weighing 15 kilograms and was 1.60 metres tall. Ötzi, as he soon became called, proved to be unique archaeological find which caused scientists to partially rewrite prehistory.

The most unique fact about the complex of archaeological finds which came to light in 1991 at the glacier's edge is the discovery of a fully-clothed, fully-equipped mummy, providing a glimpse of the clothes and technical abilities of the late Neolithic Age (3,300 to 3,100 B.C.).

His clothing consists of a cap, a fur coat, a pair of trousers, a leather loin cloth, and a pair of lined shoes.

Prior to this, the only remnants we had of the apparel of those times were the relatively fragmentary remains found in the lake dwellings in the circum-alpine region; generally, these consisted of woven or knitted plant fibers. Animal-derived materials (furs, etc.) were absent there. Thus, the complex of "Ice Man" finds offer a snapshot of a man from Chalcolithic times who was underway in the Upper Alps.

The fascination exerted by the world's oldest ice mummy is undiminished even now, more than 20 years after its discovery. But according to the museum visitors, it isn't just the chance for a "face-to-face" meeting with an ancient ancestor from the Chalcolithic Period which stamps itself in their memory.

More than anything else, it is the equipment - preserved for the first time - of a Chalcolithic man which they find so enthralling: Frozen together with the man, his clothes, tools, and personal effects have withstood the millennia.

His equipment included an unfinished bow stave, a quiver and arrow shafts, a copper hatchet, a dagger with a silex (flint) blade, a retoucheur, a birch bark container, a backpack, as well as various spare materials and bone tips. Many of the artefacts preserved in the ice are one of a kind in the world. In the absence of organic remains, it was not clear from previous finds how these objects were made and how they worked.

Carefully restored and reconstructed by the Roman-Germanic Central Museum in Mainz (Germany), his "thermal shoes", "backpack", and the dagger and sheath make it apparent how expediently equipped the Iceman was. It is amazing to note how little difference there is between the Neolithic implements and the standard equipment of a modern mountaineer. Only the materials have undergone a fundamental modernization.

Archaeo-technicians from all over Europe have repeatedly created and tested replicas of the finds discovered along with the Iceman. They were astonished at how functional the bow and arrows were, the hatchet (which could also be used to fell trees), and the tinder polypore from Oetzi's belt, with which he could (together with pyrite nodules) start a fire regardless of wind and weather.

Ötzi and his belongings were examined for six years in the Institute of Anatomy at Innsbruck. Physicians and microbiologists, anthropologists and archaeologists thronged around him to gain valuable insight into daily life during the Bronze Age. The "Man from the Glacier" was finally transferred to Bolzano in 1998, where he is preserved in the South Tyrol Archaeology Museum.

Scientific research is continuing to make great strides on the basis of this unique find, both with regards to the fate of the Iceman, himself, and to the times in which he lived. The first finds made it clear that the Iceman - who was, for his era, a relatively old man of approx. 45 years of age - suffered from arthritis. Tatoos applied at certain neuralgic points were intended as a cure. Additionally, he also suffered from intestinal worms.

In the summer of 2001, ten years after the mummy's discovery, the Iceman was briefly "thawed out" under controlled conditions by a team of researchers in Bolzano/Bozen in order to extract various tissue samples for further scientific examination.

2004, X-ray pictures and CAT scans also revealed the presence of an arrow head in the Iceman's left shoulder. Since the entry wound didn't have time to heal while he was still alive, the scientists assume that Oetzi was fatally wounded by an arrow. This discovery has done much to illuminate the personal tragedy of the Iceman, but also raises more questions about the cause of his violent death.

The DNA analysis of the Iceman's stomach contents has already been published. According to the results, the Iceman had eaten venison, forest berries, and einkorn (a natural variety of wheat) - presumably in the form of a mush or bread - a few hours before his death.

A meal taken even longer prior to his death contained, among other things, fibers of mountain goat meat which the Iceman may have carried with him in the form of dried or smoked jerky.

Further, the examination of the thawed-out body revealed hitherto unnoticed unhealed cuts on his hands indicating that he had been involved in close-quarters fighting shortly before his demise.

Preliminary results point to two places where the Iceman could have lived on the south side of the Alps: The Eisack Valley and the Vinschgau (while the find was made at the Tisen Yoke).

Text: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology