New Research on Ötzi, the Iceman, Cometh

“The tattooed man stopped at the edge of the meadow and sat on a rock for a moment as he shook the old grass from his bearskin soled boots. After replacing with fresh grass and ensuring that it was evenly distributed around his feet, the man stood, gathering his bow, quiver, and snow shoes, which slung over his shoulders, and continued his trek. He needed to reach the village by nightfall. The grass would keep his feet warm and the new grass was needed since the deep snow covered any chance of grass in the highlands.Arriving at the village just as the sun dipped behind the mountain, no one dared approach to greet the man. Indeed, the village’s people -his friends, his family, people he new for many years, literally turned their backs on him and went inside the warm thatch of their homes. Forgiveness would not come easy. If at all. The man reached his own home, now empty and desolate without a woman’s attention.

He cooked and served his own meal and intended to sleep through the night before speaking with the village elders in the morning. But morning wouldn’t wait. The shout from village center saw to that. More shouts. Demands that he come out. Knowing this wouldn’t go the way he’d hoped, the man gathered the things he entered with in haste and kicked out the back wall of the house. His intent was to steal off in the night yet again, this time not to return with the hope of a forgiveness that now seems impossible.

But the night wasn’t as black as he’d hoped and the firelight from the village center must have revealed him to the men waiting for him there. After making it only a few steps from the his house, the tattooed man felt the sharp pain and jolt of the impact by what could only be an arrow striking him in the back of the left shoulder. Had he slung his gear over that shoulder instead… Falling to his knees but for a second, the tattooed man was again up and ran as hard and as fast as he could for the darkest shadows, knowing that once there he would be back in his element and able to make for the highlands once again. This time, there would be no return. “

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The above is pure speculation with regard to many things, but some of the details about the tattooed man we now refer to as Ötzi are being confirmed. New research, soon to be published in the Journal of Archaeological Sciences and Quaternary Sciences Review are confirming the so-called “disaster theory ” of the last days of Ötzi, the Iceman. Ötzi was found in 1991 by two German tourists hiking in Austria, his remains naturally frozen and mummified by a glacier and dating to ca. 3300 BCE. The two different research teams, one in Bolzano, Italy and the other in Innsbruck, Austria have confirmed a few things relating to Ötzi’s death:

  1. that it was a projectile point that lacerated the left subclavian artery, and that the attempted removal of the arrow at the time of death may have caused Ötzi to bleed to death. The projectile has long been known about, but, until now, the actual cause of death has been speculative.
  2. Ötzi’s movements in the last day or two of his life are confirmed by analysis of ingesta and pollen samples. He, apparently ate two different meals since he had two different kinds of meat in his digestive system that were at different stages of digestion and pollen samples could be forensically traced to specific regions near the site of his death.

Specifically, Ötzi was in a subalpine region some distance above the Schnals and/or Etsch valleys where he walked to and was present about 9-12 hours before his death. Seven to four hours later, Ötzi was again in a subalpine coniferous forest where he consumed his last meal and then he climbed to the Tisen Pass where he died. Basically, he was in the highlands, went down to the valley, and then back up to the highlands again in a matter of hours. His last hours were both hectic and violent.

Where he was, what he ate, and the shot in the back of the shoulder with an arrow are all things that can be forensically revealed. Why he was where he was and why he was shot, to those questions we can only speculate. But sometimes, as long as we don’t attempt to establish them as truths, speculations can be the fun parts of archaeology.

Further Reading (keep an eye out for them):

  • Oeggl, K., et al (2007). The reconstruction of the last itinerary of “Ötzi “, the Neolithic Iceman, by pollen analyses from sequentially sampled gut extracts. Quaternary Sciences Review, article in press.
  • Pernter, P. et al (2007). Radiologic proof for the Iceman’s cause of death (ca. 5,300 BP), Journal of Archaeological Sciences, article in press.

7 thoughts on “New Research on Ötzi, the Iceman, Cometh

  1. “Otzi”, the ice man, was found south of Italys northern (Alpine) border, which places the important find in Italy, not austria. The research team at Bolzano had aquired the human remains from an Italian university whose archaeologists were first on the site simply because the site was well within Italy. Austrian officials maintain that “Otzi” was found “between the border” of both Italy and Austria and demanded equal rights to the frozen ice man. The pressing question now, I suppose, is “how wide is the border”? I guess it
    depends on how bad the austrians need to claim “Otzi” as their own.

    The Vinshagua valley was the last resting place of the ice man, which is presently part of an Italian national park.

    1. the iceman was originally thought to be in italy based on border markers however further investigation found an extra border marker putting him in austria

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