Ötzi: The Frozen Man from the Alps

Ötzi: The Frozen Man from the Alps

Ötzi: The Frozen Man from the Alps
On September 19, 1991, a couple of tourists were hiking through the alpine mountains that
straddle the border between Austria and Italy when they came upon a grisly sight – a frozen
body with the lower half completely encased in ice. They initially thought they discovered the
remains of an unfortunate mountaineer who maybe got lost or injured and died in the
snow. Or perhaps they stumbled onto something a
bit more blood-curdling like a murder victim. Either way, they did what any sensible person
would do and alerted the authorities. As it turned out, their suspicions were off
by a few thousand years. A murder victim? Maybe (more on that later), but definitely
not a recently-deceased mountaineer. The body belonged to a man from the Chalcolithic,
better known as the Copper Age. He has often been referred to as Ötzi the
Iceman, named after the Ötztal Alps where he was found, and became somewhat of a sensation
with him being the oldest natural mummy in Europe. Today we are doing something a bit different
here at Biographics as we explore the story of a man completely absent from the historical
record. There are no texts, no inscriptions, no oral
history to provide us with information about his family life, his accomplishments, or his
failures. Every single thing we know about Ötzi, we
learned by studying his mummified body and the items he had on him when he died. The Discovery As we mentioned above, the iceman was discovered
by two German hikers named Helmut and Erika Simon on the ridge of the Fineil peak, at
an elevation of 10,530 feet. The two tourists were venturing off the beaten
path when they encountered Ötzi’s half-thawed body so it is hard to say with certainty when
he first emerged from his icy tomb. Most likely, it was that year’s warm summer
that caused enough ice to melt to allow the head and torso to protrude out. Extracting the mummy from the snow proved
trickier than expected. The first day, the Simons found the body but
made no attempt to remove it. The second day, they brought a few policemen
who came armed with pickaxes and a pneumatic drill, but they had to abandon the mission
due to bad weather. The third day, another attempt was aborted
because they could not obtain a helicopter. It wasn’t until September 23 that Ötzi
was completely extricated from the ice and taken to the Institute of Forensic Medicine
in Innsbruck. There, archaeologist Konrad Spindler dismissed
notions that the body belonged to a recently-deceased mountaineer and said that it was 4,000 years
old, at least. Scientists realized the potential magnitude
of the find and multiple teams went back to the location where Ötzi was buried and continued
excavations to see what else they could discover. Meanwhile, four separate scientific institutions
were given tissue samples from the corpse to perform radiocarbon dating and they all
concluded that the ice mummy lived sometime between 3350 and 3100 BC. To put that into some perspective, Ötzi had
already been buried for over 600 years when the ancient Egyptians began construction on
the Great Pyramid of Giza. In the meantime, modern authorities were more
concerned over the complicated issue of ownership. With little regard for future geopolitical
sensibilities, Ötzi decided to die right next to a somewhat-controversial border between
Austria and Italy. According to the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye
from 1919, the border between North Tyrol (which is in Austria) and South Tyrol (which
is in Italy) is defined as the drainage divide of the rivers Inn and Etsch. However, when it was time to officially draw
the borders on maps, the survey team made a mistake due to heavy snow and placed the
border incorrectly. As a result, Ötzi was dug up by Austrian
authorities and taken to an Austrian institute for study. However, two weeks after his discovery, on
October 2, 1991, a new survey was carried out which determined that the mummy had actually
been located about 300 feet from the border, but on the Italian side. Therefore, South Tyrol successfully claimed
property rights, but agreed to let the scientific examination of the iceman be carried out in
Austria. Consequently, Ötzi has been at the South
Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Italy for over two decades. What We Learned from the Body
Ötzi, or the Similaun Man as he is sometimes called, is categorized as a wet mummy. This means that its body was dehydrated and
lost most of its fluid, but the tissue and organs are still well-preserved. Ötzi’s corpse has become one of the most
extensively analyzed and examined human remains in history and, believe it or not, we are
still learning new stuff about him and the age he lived in. We are fortunate that he was preserved almost
in his entirety because he ended up in a crevasse that shielded him from the harshest weather
elements, but also perfectly encased him inside a glacier and protected him from being crushed
during the glacier’s movements. As a result of this, we got an amazing glimpse
into the life, the behavior, the clothing, the tools, and even the diet of primitive
Europeans from over 5,000 years ago. Ötzi was a relatively small man for the time. His mummy is a little over 5 ft tall and weighs
close to 29 lbs. In life, he would have been a bit taller,
something like 5 ft 2 in, and would have weighed around 110 lbs. By examining structural bone units called
osteons from the mummy’s femur, researchers estimated that Ötzi was around 45 years old
when he died. Most of his hair was gone because the epidermis
quickly shed during the process of decomposition. However, a few clumps were still present around
the remains, indicating that Ötzi had dark, medium-long hair with traces of arsenic in
it. That last part suggests to researchers that
the iceman was involved in smelting, most likely copper since he had an axe blade that
was almost pure copper. This belief was further strengthened by the
fact that Ötzi’s lungs were blackened by soot due to close, prolonged exposure to open
fires. Australian scientists from Canberra examined
the isotopes in Ötzi’s teeth and bones to see what information they could glean. By studying the minerals present in his body,
researchers extrapolated the composition of his drinking water and, consequently, identified
the places where he lived. They believe they pinpointed his origins fairly
accurately and, unsurprisingly, they are not far from the site where he was discovered. They ascertained that the iceman lived somewhere
in the valleys within 37 miles south of his icy grave. Moreover, they detected contrasts in the isotopic
compositions of his tooth enamel which suggested that, at one point, he left his childhood
home behind and moved around as an adult. The rest of his bones suggested that the Similaun
Man led a tough, physically-active lifestyle. He had broken several bones during his lifetime
and x-rays revealed that his shoulders, knees, hips, and spine all had significant wear and
tear in the joints. One study indicated that the iceman’s tibia
showed mediolateral strengthening well above the average for late Neolithic men, something
that could have been indicative of long walks over rough terrain. This, compounded with the rest of the physical
stress exerted on his bones, led to speculation that Ötzi may have been a high-altitude shepherd. How Healthy Was He? This should not come as much of a surprise
to you, but Ötzi was not a particularly healthy individual, at least not by our standards. In fact, he currently holds the distinction
for oldest evidence of Lyme disease, an infectious illness which is transmitted to humans by
the Borrelia bacterium spread by ticks. Scientists could not tell how advanced the
infection was, but it could have given the iceman joint pains and severe headaches. In addition to his bacterial companion, Ötzi
was also infested with Trichuris trichiura, a parasite better known as whipworm. Eggs belonging to the parasite were still
located in the iceman’s intestinal tract. Perhaps the most curious medical affliction
that befell Ötzi was severe arteriosclerosis. This is a hardening of the arteries which
scientists previously regarded as a problem of the modern world. Specifically, it is usually an issue for people
who follow the couch potato/fast food lifestyle as being overweight and getting little exercise
were considered the major risk factors, alongside smoking and drinking. And yet Ötzi feasted on no fast food and
reposed on no recliner, but he was still a heart attack waiting to happen. As it turned out, he had a genetic predisposition
for arteriosclerosis, something which plays a bigger part in the condition than we previously
expected. Ötzi was also lactose intolerant, but this
was still the norm amongst Late Neolithic Europeans. Dairy products represented a relatively new
food group and their systems were still learning to process them. In addition to all these, the iceman also
had a few peculiarities that weren’t necessarily bad, just unusual. He only had 11 pairs of ribs instead of 12,
he had an abnormally thick bony ridge above his eyes and lacked wisdom teeth. The rest of his teeth, you won’t be surprised
to learn, were full of cavities and worn down, most likely due to his high-carb, grain-heavy
diet. So, all in all, Ötzi wasn’t exactly the
picture of health. The Last Meal
Speaking of his diet, the iceman’s remains were so well-preserved that they still contained
Ötzi’s last meal. It seems that just hours before he died, the
Similaun Man gorged on a high-fat feast that would put most fast food menus to shame. We don’t know whether this was a regular
occurrence for Ötzi or whether he realized he was dying and decided there was no point
in letting good food go to waste. Most of the meal consisted of fatty ibex meat. In its condition, it still had striations
on the meat fibers which were a sign that it had been air-dried or cooked at low temperatures
to last longer. Modern tests indicate that boiling the meat
or roasting it or preparing it in any way using temperatures over 60 degrees Celsius
or 140 degrees Fahrenheit would cause that striated pattern to disappear. Ötzi complemented his ibex meat with a side
of red deer. We’re not sure what part, though. While the ibex meat was clearly fatty muscle,
the red deer meat he ate was, most likely, an organ like the spleen or liver. His stomach also contained traces of einkorn
wheat. Most curiously, it appears that the iceman
also feasted on a type of fern called bracken which is mainly notable for being toxic. Researchers are still a bit puzzled over this
one and haven’t found a conclusive explanation yet. Was it simply a mistake and Ötzi thought
it was something else? Did he use it to wrap his meat and accidentally
ingested a few pieces? Did he actually use it as medicine to treat
a stomach ache? Or, again, maybe he realized he was dying
and just thought “Might as well. Things can’t get any worse.” The Tattoos
An interesting aspect about the Similaun Man’s body was that it was covered in tattoos. Originally, scientists spotted somewhere around
40, but that number steadily increased as they continued to inspect the remains closely
and found new ways of contrasting the black tattoos against the dark, leathery brown skin. As of the most recent mapping of Ötzi’s
body which took place in 2015, researchers spotted 61 tattoos grouped into 19 different
sections. The tattoos themselves are very basic and
consist of black lines arranged either in cruciform patterns or parallel to each other. They were probably made by cutting small incisions
into the skin and rubbing in charcoal. Admittedly, the tattoos didn’t exactly turn
Ötzi into the Illustrated Man, but scientists are more interested in their purpose rather
than their quality. Were they purely for decoration, did they
have some kind of symbolic or ceremonial meaning or was it possible, perhaps, that their purpose
was medicinal? That last option has really intrigued researchers
ever since they noticed that all of the tattoos are grouped into clusters and placed on Ötzi’s
lower back, wrists, ankles, and knees – all places that suffered degeneration and likely
to cause pain. Perhaps they were used as an ancient pain
relief treatment similar to acupuncture, only thousands of years before the practice was
used in China. Vintage Chalcolithic
We’ve covered about all there is to say about Ötzi based on his remains, but there
is plenty more to discuss. When the iceman was first discovered, he was
decked out in a full assortment of clothing, giving us a glimpse into Late Neolithic fashion. Ötzi was a man who liked his leather and
he used skins and hides from at least five different animals to craft his outfit. One of the researchers who helped analyze
and recreate his clothing called him “pretty picky” when it came to selecting his materials
so it seems that Ötzi may be the earliest-known fashionista in history. The iceman was wearing a coat, leggings, a
loincloth, a cloak, a belt, a cap, and shoes. His loincloth was sheepskin, his leggings
were made out of goat hide and his coat was a mixture of both goat and sheep hides that
had been stitched together with animal sinew. The coat had been in use for a long time as
it had signs of makeshift repairs using grass fibers. His cloak was made out of woven alpine swamp
grass and his hat was a fancy bearskin cap that even had a chinstrap to keep it in place. Whether the cloak was actually a cloak or
not is still a matter of debate as too little of it survived to get an idea of its full
size and shape. Some have argued that it could have been part
of a backpack or simply a mat that the iceman unfurled and slept on. The belt was made out of calfskin and had
another leather strip stitched onto it to make a small pouch which contained several
items that we will talk about in a minute. Ötzi also carried a quiver manufactured from
the leather of a roe deer. An impressive part of the iceman’s outfit
were the shoes . They were made out of two layers stitched together. The inner layer consisted of insulating dry
grass stuffed into a netting made out of bast fiber string. The outer layer was deer hide, worn with the
fur on the inside. A Czech footwear expert who specialized in
recreating ancient shoes created replicas of Ötzi’s shoes and gave them to experienced
climbers to use them on mountain terrain. They found that the footwear was not only
comfortable, but offered great protection and the researcher even got an offer from
a Czech company that wanted to buy the rights to sell the shoes. What’s In The Bag? To complement his snazzy outfit, Ötzi was
also completely kitted out with ancient gear. The highlight of his equipment was a copper
axe which is still, to this day, a one-of-a-kind discovery. The haft was approximately 24 inches long,
it was made from yew and had a right-angled crook at one end to hold in the blade. That blade was 99.7 percent pure copper, it
was fixed into the shaft of the handle with birch tar and tied together with leather straps. This tool saw a lot of action as the blade
showed signs of being re-sharpened numerous times. This was clearly a valuable item and similar
axes from around that time period had been found buried with high-ranking men. This led to speculation about Ötzi’s origins. Maybe he had not been just a shepherd or a
smelter. Maybe he was someone of high status like a
tribe chief. Scientists actually managed to trace the source
of the copper and found that it came from southern Tuscany, hundreds of miles from where
the iceman was discovered, even though the alpine region had its own copper ore sources. Instead of providing answers, these finds
only seemed to deepen the mystery surrounding the Similaun Man. There was plenty more equipment in the iceman’s
toolbag. We already mentioned that he had a quiver
and it seems he was in the process of assembling a full bow & arrow set. He had a long stave made from yew which he
was carving into a functioning bow. He also had 14 arrows made from wayfaring
tree and cornelian cherry, although only two of them had been finished with arrowheads
and fletching. The quiver also contained a few antler tips
and a long piece of bast fiber which would have probably served as the bowstring. Although not as impressive as the copper axe,
but just as unique were Ötzi’s dagger and retoucher. The dagger had a flint blade, an ash wood
handle, and a wicker sheath and it still is the only fully-preserved dagger from the Copper
Age. The retoucher was a tool that puzzled researchers
for a while as they couldn’t figure out its purpose. It looked like a large pencil made from the
branch of a lime tree and with a sharpened “core” inside that turned out to be a
piece of fire-hardened antler. They eventually realized that the retoucher
was used to re-sharpen other tools and weapons, another first for that time period. Ötzi also had on him two birch-bark containers
which held charcoal fragments and various leaves. Given that the insides of one container was
blackened, researchers speculate that the iceman used them to carry embers around to
start fires. The rest of the gear included a few pieces
of wooden rods and planks which were once part of a backpack, a bird belt used to carry
fowl, and two pieces of birch fungus which were threaded onto leather strips, most likely
used as medicine. The Coldest Case
Now we arrive at, perhaps, the biggest puzzle that still surrounds Ötzi – what caused his
death? Was he caught in a blizzard? Did he injure himself, thus becoming unable
to return to his tribe before freezing to death? Was he a ritual sacrifice? Or was there foul play involved? For a decade after his discovery, scientists
generally believed that Ötzi died of exposure to the elements. It wasn’t until years later that a more
advanced CT scan of his remains revealed that the iceman had an arrow wound beneath his
left collarbone. Moreover, the shot hit an artery and caused
massive blood loss which would have caused Ötzi to go into shock and possibly suffer
a heart attack. Even today, the chances of surviving such
an attack are around 40 percent, so the iceman had virtually no way of making it out alive. Investigating his death as a regular cold
case, detectives concluded that Ötzi’s assailant got away with murder. Signs pointed to an ambush. Just hours before his death, the iceman enjoyed
a heavy meal so he wasn’t in a rush. There were no defense wounds on his body except
a cut on his right hand which was a few days old and had already begun to heal at the time
of death. As far as motivation goes, investigators ruled
out profit because the killer didn’t take Ötzi’s prized copper axe. Despite their conclusions, detectives reluctantly
admit that this is one cold case destined to remain unsolved forever. Someone may have taken out the iceman, but
they didn’t take out his bloodline. Believe it or not, Ötzi has descendants still
alive today. When scientists sequenced his genome back
in 2013, they compared a unique genetic mutation to thousands of samples obtained from donors
in Tyrol and found that 19 of them shared the same ancestry as Ötzi. They were all men, as it appears only the
paternal line survived. Who Owns Ötzi? Controversy seems to have followed Ötzi even
in death. We already mentioned that there was a little
tiff between Austria and Italy over who owned the remains, but that matter was solved quickly
and pales in comparison to the legal dispute between the original discoverers and the Government
of South Tyrol. According to Italian law, Helmut and Erika
Simon were entitled to a finder’s fee for locating the iceman equal to 25 percent of
his total value. However, the provincial government simply
refused to pay this, arguing that they are the ones who covered the expenses of removing
and preserving the iceman. In 1994, they offered a measly reward of 10
million lire (€5,200). Unsurprisingly, the Simons refused and went
to court. It wasn’t until 2008, 17 years later, that
the matter was settled. Although Helmut Simon had died by then, his
widow received 150,000 euros. Simon, who died during a freak blizzard while
hiking not far from where the iceman was found, was just one of several bizarre deaths linked
to Ötzi, prompting rumors of a curse similar to the one of the pharaohs. Of course, given that hundreds of people were
involved in the discovery and study of the frozen man, having a few of them die over
the course of decades isn’t that unusual. Even so, the “Curse of the Iceman” just
helps add to the mystique that still surrounds Ötzi.

100 comments on “Ötzi: The Frozen Man from the Alps

  1. I imagine his murderers chuckling as the were walking away, thinking, "Ha! No one will hear about that idiot ever again."

  2. “Only the paternal line survived”…. what? That doesn’t make sense. If the Ice Man has descendants, they would obviously include women, unless you’re arguing that in that particular bloodline only males were born every generation for 5000 years!

  3. WOW!! I went to the museum in Bolzano, Italy and saw the body through the glass. They’ve even got all his clothes and weapons. He’s still hot skin, muscle, teeth and eyes. It’s AMAZING!

  4. Hard ass old man did not die easy. They wounded him, he got away and found a good ditch to die in. All that is obvious. My question is, did Otzi take one of them with him? He got away..It makes you wonder.

  5. When are people going to except the fact that the Pyramids were made before the flood. 10 thousand years ago – by Robert M. Schoch's geology work.

  6. Helmut's body lies face down with arrow sticking out of his back on a mountain pass

    South Tyrol government: "Oh how terrible. He 'froze to death' in an ice storm before getting his payout…" laughs maniacally

  7. That guy thought he was just gonna die cold and alone but little did he know he would provide us future humans with valuable info.

  8. Awesome clip. His cause of death was murder. The reason for the murder was extremely simple. EVERYONE killed when they could get away with it, all through history.

  9. The birch fungus was possibly used for fire-lighting. It takes a spark very well, possibly from the [back of] flint knife and a piece of iron ore

  10. Lol 70% of population is lactose intolerant…that won't change in 10,000 years. We weren't meant to breast feed from cows…as children, or adults..with that said, I'm heading to the store to get egg nog! Dairy gold is the greatest brand!

  11. I wonder if the toxic plant matter they found in him was from the animals he ate? Maybe they ate the plant and the red meat the said the found were part of the intestines. I'm going to go out on a limb and say he probably didn't know that plant was toxic and thought it was a medicine or thought if you eat the guts of the animal you get some kind of spiritual power. It seems weird to think that in 2019 but remember there are people out in the world who believe in some very strange creatures and other stuff that we use in stories and video games lol. If you want to know what those kind of people are like just take a quick flight out to Afghanistan they are still cavemen.

  12. Two Tourists at ten thousand feet? not buying that, I live 500ft above sea level and the Tourists are lost and confused at that level.

  13. The Bracken Fern is toxic enough to treat the parasites Otzi had in his gut. It's an old remedy for whip and tape worm infestation.

  14. really decked out outfit and kit , then an almost unicorn of a custom axe ? i think we got ourselves a retired ancient warrior and he met his match one day and they found him. Ötzi you got my respect.

  15. There is a theory about the man's fate I find plausible, which is, that he was a man of importance (→expensive clothes, expensive axe) who, for some reason had to run from his enemies, and thus, fled up high into the mountains, which he must have known quite well. Only, his enemies got him (→arrow head in his body), but left the corpse and did not take any of his possessions, because if they had run around with his stuff, people would have recognized them. So after the kill, his killers just went down to the valley and acted as if nothing happened … and over five thousand years later, his body was found, at a time, when the great pyramids of Giza were as far in the future as space flight from medieval knights.


    There is, of course, also a more light hearted approach to the matter, because people were wondering, which nationality the man was from. Couldn't have been Italian, for he carried tools for work, couldn't have been Austrian, because he carried no Schnaps, so maybe he was a German tourist, because who else would walk up the mountains in sandals…

  16. You guys are wrong about his fat diet, I grew up in these super cold winters and we eat high levels of fat because it’s the best source of energy especially if you are going for a long trip on foot.

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