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One of the greatest archaeological findings of the 20th century is the discovery of Otzi the iceman, who is known to be the frozen mummy. Even after 5,300 years, Otzi the Iceman continues to reveal secrets.

It was on September 19, 1991, Europe’s oldest known mummy was discovered to stick out of the ice by two German tourists who were hiking in the Otzal Alps near the Italian-Austrian border. 

For approximately 5,300 years, Otzi had been naturally mummified by the ice and kept in amazing condition. When the preserved body was researched, various artifacts were found and it continues to reveal much about the life of Copper Age Europeans.

In this article, we will see the detailed surface of what is known of Otzi the Iceman. 

The sensation of Otzi the Iceman

Otzi mummy

The year 1991, caused an international sensation when the well-preserved 5,300-year-old mummy was dug out of the glacier high in the Italian Alps. The press named the naturally mummified individual Otzi because he was found in the mountains above the Ötztal Valley

Over the past few decades, man’s mummified remains, the clothes he wore,  and the implements he carried have been studied bringing an intense interest and attraction in the public ranking it to be one of the greatest archaeological findings in the 20th century. 

He is actually from a Copper age and died in the same situation as he had lived. And this is why he is considered to be so much important. With many archaeological finds, the story of his discovery provides some knowledge with patience and detailed analysis over time. 

The discovery of the mummy

On September 19, 1991, around 1.30 pm, two tourists Erika and Helmut Simon from Nuremberg, Germany moved downwards from the final peak in the Tisenjoch area of the Otzal Alps,  taking a shortcut off the beaten path. When they were moving, they noticed something brown in color sticking out of the ice. 

When they saw it intensely, they found the back of the head, arms, and back, and identified it to be a human corpse. But the bottom of the torso was still embedded in the ice, where it was lying outstretched on his stomach and the left arm was angled strongly to the right and lay under the chin.

The remains of the Otzi were exposed as the summer had been particularly warm with high temperatures. The warm Sahara wind brought sand to the glacier in which the Otzi was stuck. It was not pure white but was covered with red sand and melted even more quicker. 

They took a picture and reported about this at the Similaun Refuge. The Simons and the authorities thought that the body belonged to a modern man who had recently suffered a deadly accident.

The next day, they attempted to extract the body from the ice using axes and jackhammers. The attempt of digging out Otzi the iceman was hard because none of them were trained archeologists. During the process of digging the body out, parts of the mummy including the left hip and thigh along with a few of his tools including his bow were damaged. 

Due to bad weather, the first attempt to free the body from the ice was obstructed, so the next day, the authorities tried again. That the predicted time, the rescue team had to put in their efforts for a much longer time period. Five days after the discovery of Otzi, the mummy was fully exposed and freed from the ice. 

To carry out the mommy, a helicopter was used and the iceman was transported to the Institute of Forensic Medicine at Innsbruck Medical University in Austria. The remains of the body were examined by Konrad Spindler, an archaeologist at the University of Innsbruck, and after examination, it was announced that the mommy was not a modern man but at least 4,000 years old. 

Finding the Otzi mummy

In ancient times, Egyptian mummification will be done using applied chemicals and other things with the support of humans. 

But during further inspection of Otzi the Iceman, it was found that through the process of natural mummification the ice had preserved the body involving the preserving of organic tissues without the support of human intervention. Natural mummification can occur in a dry environment or places with a lack of oxygen in addition to extremely cold environments. 

On the issues of Otzi, subsequent radiocarbon analysis was performed and they found that it was even older than 4000 years.  It determined that the iceman was about 5300 years old and was dated to 3300 BC.  This means that the individual had lived in the era of history known as the copper age (3500 BC to 1700 BC)

Otzi found above the Otzal valley

This is also known as the Chalcolithic period when the first complex social hierarchies were developed and populations began to erect large, monumental structures made of stone including standing stones, famous megalithic tombs, and dolmens of Europe. It represents the time of the populations of what is now Europe began to make widespread use of the metals while still using stone tools but had not yet smelted copper and tin to make bronze. 

It was at first housed at the Institute of Forensic Medicine at Innsbruck Medical University in Austria. But the Italian government claimed the remains once the researchers learned that the mummy had been found on the Italian side of the Alps, 100 feet (30 m) from the Austrian border. 

It was agreed by Austria and six years later, Otzi the iceman was transferred to the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, housed in a special “cold cell,”  kept at a constant 20.3 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 6.5 degrees Celsius) and can be viewed through a small window. His artifacts and clothing are also on display.

Who was Otzi? 

An extensive scientific analysis was done and since his discovery, Otzi has revealed more about what was his life and how he died along with the time period. 

His physical appearance 

They found the physical characteristics of the mummy with the initial analysis. They found that Otzi was 5 feet 3 inches (1.60m) in height and 110 pounds (50 kilograms). The low levels of subcutaneous fat on his body concluded that he had a lean and wiry-built body.  it also revealed that he probably had brown eyes. The bones indicated that he was in his 40s when he died. 

The findings indicate that he is not related to the current populations of continental Europe but shares a genetic likeness with the inhabitants of the islands of Sardinia and Corsica. 

His health conditions 

He was fit but he was not completely healthy because he suffered from several ailments like Lyme disease and intestinal parasites. 

Through microscopic analysis of his stomach, a bacterium was found that causes stomach ulcers and gastritis, also he had extensive wear on his teeth, and his joints, especially signs of significant wear and tear were shown in his hips, shoulder, knees, and spine, and suggested that he was suffering from arthritis. His lungs were coated with soot, which indicated that he spent a lot of time around open fires during his life. He even had signs of tooth decay, gum disease, and dental trauma. 

Place of origin and diet

The body helped to determine the place of Origin and aspects of his diet. It all pointed out to the origin from the southern side of the Alps. 

His last meal before he died included wild meat from ibex and red deer, cereals from einkorn wheat and to be strange a poisonous fern, which may have served as a plastic wrap to hold his food, or he might have used it as a treatment for his intestinal parasites. 

The time period 

Otzi the iceman’s artifacts have revealed much about the man’s life through detailed analysis. When he was first dug out of the ice, they found scattered bits of leather, animal hide,  plant fiber, string, his axe, and an unfinished bow was found near him. 

Additional artifacts were discovered including more hide, leather, a knife, an arrow quiver, and pieces of Otzi’s clothing. Iceman’s wardrobe consisted of leggings, a cloak, a belt, a bearskin cap, a loincloth, and shoes and they were able to reconstruct them. 

reconstructed axe of Otzi

The latter were made out of deer hide stretched on a string netting and were insulated with grass. A leather pouch containing a tinder fungus, a scraper, a boring tool, a bone awl, and a flint flake was also found by the archaeologists. 

61 tattoos in the shape of parallel lines and crosses were spotted on the body of Otzi. They were found in his rib cage, wrists, lower back, knees, ankles, and calves. These were not made with a needle-like the modern tattoos. Instead, fine incisions were made on his skin and the wound was filled with charcoal. It is assumed that the tattoos were not for decorative purposes but would have been for medical purposes. 

How did Otzi die? 

 The greatest mystery behind Otzi the iceman is his death.  When he was first recovering from the ice,  it was assumed that he had died in a Mountaineering accident. It was speculated that he would have died after falling into a crevasse giving way to exposure to elements or would have lost his footing in the ice and died. 

But in 2012 a detailed analysis of Otzi’s body revealed that he was not dead by natural causes but was actually murdered. According to the detail of an X-ray conducted in 2001, he sustained two injuries, one in his shoulder, which consisted of a flint arrowhead embedded, and the other in his head which was severe and caused by a blunt object. 

A 2012 study published revealed that the arrow was the main cause of death which pierced through the left shoulder blade and injured an important artery, the subclavian artery, under the collarbone.

He would have bled to death within a matter of minutes and it was found that his red blood cells showed traces of a clotting protein that quickly appears in human blood immediately after a wound but disappears soon after. This means that Otzi didn’t survive the wound. 

Ötzi would have likely been trapped and the arrow would have struck his back and killed him. It is possible that he would have suffered the head wound at the same time as the arrow wound.

Why was he killed? 

Otzi the iceman

Until now it remains a mystery. Even three decades after his discovery, Otzi the iceman still fascinates the world.

It is clear that Otzi suffered a violent death and it indicates that it would be a hand-to-hand combat because the wound on his hand was a defense wound. 

He was able to survive this initial struggle, but not for long. 

It is believed by most anthropologists that Otzi fled up the mountain and was shot with an arrow from 30m (100 ft). So whoever killed him might have done it so from a distance. The arrow that hit his left shoulder would have severed his subclavian artery and caused him to bleed to death in minutes.

Final thoughts

5,000 years ago, in a world far removed from our modern era of digital communications, space travel and advanced technologies of all kinds Otzi the iceman offers a glimpse into the life and times of a man in that period.

The clothing he wore and the tools he carried suggest he was acutely adapted to his environment. He was well-versed in the plants, animals, and technologies of his era. His legs were very muscular, probably from frequent walking. Using new and innovative technologies future studies will continue to reveal even more about Ötzi’s life and times.

Even our prehistoric ancestors knew that to commit the perfect murder, you must get rid of the body. And so if asked was Otzi a revenge murderer? We will never know and the mystery remains. But it might be one of the coldest cold cases of murder in humankind.

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