Otzi the Iceman

Otzi the IcemanMummy Trapped in Alps Glacier Tells a Story

Finding Ötzi the Iceman

One of the many highlights of Alpenwild's Italian Dolomites tour is an opportunity to visit the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano. Here you'll see the amazingly well preserved natural mummy and personal artifacts of a man who lived around 5,300 years ago and whose body was preserved in glacial ice until his discovery by two German hikers in 1991. Because his body was found on the east ridge of the Fineilspitze in the Ötzal Alps at an elevation of 10,530 feet, this Copper Age Homo tyrolensis is commonly known as Ötzi, or Ötzi the Iceman. Ötzi is the oldest man ever found intact. Some Egyptian mummies are older, but their brains and internal organs were removed in the mummification process. Since Ötzi was so well preserved in glacial ice, he has provided scientists and researchers the best specimen to date for a man over 5000 years old.  

Examining Ötzi

In the years since his discovery, scientists have given him a thorough examination, including X-rays, CT scans, radiocarbon dating, microscopic and isotopic analysis, and have sequenced his full genome. They've learned that Ötzi was 5 ft. 5in. tall, weighed about 110 lbs., was 45 years of age and spent his childhood near the present village of Feldthurns, north of Bolzano before moving 30 miles to the north. He had tattoos, a beard, deep-set brown eyes, a furrowed face, sunken cheeks, and was gap-toothed. The analyses of his intestinal contents show that his last two meals consisted of chamois meat, red deer, and herbed bread eaten with grains, fruits, berries, and root crops, eaten in the spring. Ötzi was lactose intolerant and apparently had Lyme disease, whipworm, an intestinal parasite, and had been sick three times in the six months before he died. Ötzi's hair contained high levels of copper particles and arsenic, and his axe was 99.7% pure copper, leading us to believe that he was personally involved in copper smelting. Ötzi's intact blood cells are the oldest blood cells ever identified.

Ötzi's clothes and personal artifacts were impressive both for their quality and sophistication. His cloak was made of woven grass and his coat, belt, leggings, loincloth and shoes were made of leather from the skins of five different animals, both wild and domesticated. He was outfitted in a bearskin hat, with leather trim and sinew stitching. His shoes were waterproof with bearskin soles, deer hide top panels, and netting made of tree bark.  

How did Ötzi Die?Otzi tools

A 2001 CT scan revealed an arrowhead lodged in Ötzi's left shoulder at the time of death, and a matching small puncture on his coat. Further research indicated that the shaft of the arrow was removed before his death. In 2012 researchers using Raman spectroscopy and atomic force microscopy concluded that Ötzi did not die immediately from his shoulder wound. It is currently believed that Ötzi died from a blow to the head, though whether that was a result of a fall or an attack is unknown. Pollen and food analysis suggest that he was out of his home territory and may have be involved in a skirmish with a neighboring tribe. Whatever the cause of death or the new findings that continue to surface regarding Ötzi, one thing is certain--you'll be fascinated by your encounter with this 5,300 year old man. A vist to the South Tirol Museum of Archeology is a favorite pre-or post-tour stop on Alpenwild's Italian Dolomites tour.