Ötzi the Iceman

Ötzi the Iceman
Ötzi the Iceman
Ötzi the Iceman on a sheet covered autopsy table
Born fl. c.3300 BC
near the present village of Feldthurns (Velturno), north of Bolzano, Italy
Died fl. c.3255 BC (aged about 45)
Ötztal Alps, near Hauslabjoch on the border between Austria and Italy
Cause of death Exsanguination due to arrow wound on his shoulder[1]
Other names Similaun Man; "Frozen Fritz" (by British tabloids)/Otzi
Known for Oldest natural mummy of a Chalcolithic (Copper Age) European man
Height 1.65 m (5 ft 5 in)
Weight 50 kg (110 lb; 7.9 st)
South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology

Ötzi the Iceman (pronounced [ˈœtsi] ( listen)), Similaun Man, and Man from Hauslabjoch are modern names for a well-preserved natural mummy of a man who lived about 5,300 years ago.[2] The mummy was found in September 1991 in the Ötztal Alps, near Hauslabjoch on the border between Austria and Italy.[3] The nickname comes from the Ötztal (Ötz valley), the Italian Alps in which he was discovered. He is Europe's oldest natural human mummy, and has offered an unprecedented view of Chalcolithic (Copper Age) Europeans. His body and belongings are displayed in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, South Tyrol, Italy.



Ötzi the Iceman half uncovered, face down in a pool of water with iced banks
Ötzi the Iceman while still frozen in the glacier, photographed by Helmut Simon upon the discovery of the body in September 1991

Ötzi was found by two German tourists from Nuremberg, Helmut and Erika Simon at the Hauslabjoch, (a mountain pass at 3210 m height in the Ötztal Alps on the Austrian-Italian border), and excavated by German archaeologist Herbert Hetzel on 19 September 1991; the body was at first thought to be a modern corpse. Lying on its front and frozen in ice below the torso, it was crudely removed from the glacier by the Austrian authorities using a small jackhammer (which punctured the hip of the body) and ice-axes using non-archaeological methods. In addition, before the body was removed from the ice, people were allowed to see it, and some took portions of the clothing and tools as souvenirs. The body was then taken to a morgue in Innsbruck where its true age was ascertained.

Surveys in October 1991 showed that the body had been located 92.56 metres (101 yd) inside Italian territoryCoordinates: 46°46′44″N 10°50′23″E / 46.77889°N 10.83972°E / 46.77889; 10.83972.[4] Since 1998 it has been on display at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, the capital of South Tyrol.

Scientific analyses

The corpse has been extensively examined, measured, X-rayed, and dated. Tissues and intestinal contents have been examined microscopically, as have the items found with the body. In August 2004, frozen bodies of three Austro-Hungarian soldiers killed during the Battle of San Matteo (1918) were found on the mountain of San Matteo in Trentino. One body was sent to a museum in the hope that research on how the environment affected its preservation would help unravel Ötzi's past and future evolution.[5]


By current estimates, at the time of his death Ötzi was approximately 1.65 metres (5 ft 5 in) tall,[6] weighed about 50 kilograms (110 lb; 7.9 st)[7] and was about 45 years of age.[6] When his body was found, it weighed 13.750 kg.[8] Because the body was covered in ice shortly after his death, it had only partially deteriorated. Analysis of pollen, dust grains and the isotopic composition of his tooth enamel indicates that he spent his childhood near the present village of Feldthurns, north of Bolzano, but later went to live in valleys about 50 kilometres further north.[9] His lungs were blackened, probably from breathing the smoke of campfires[citation needed]. Analysis by Franco Rollo's group at the University of Camerino has shown that Ötzi's mitochondrial DNA belongs to the K1 subcluster of the mitochondrial haplogroup K, but that it cannot be categorized into any of the three modern branches of that subcluster.[10] Rollo's group published Ötzi's complete mtDNA sequence in 2008.[11]

The Iceman from the chest up lying on stainless steel table, with his left arm across his body just between the top of his right shoulder and under his chin
Ötzi the Iceman, now housed at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy

Analysis of Ötzi's intestinal contents showed two meals (the last one consumed about eight hours before his death), one of chamois meat, the other of red deer and Herb bread. Both were eaten with grain as well as roots and fruits. The grain from both meals was a highly processed einkorn wheat bran,[12] quite possibly eaten in the form of bread. In the proximity of the body, and thus possibly originating from the Iceman's provisions, chaff and grains of einkorn and barley, and seeds of flax and poppy were discovered, as well as kernels of sloes (small plumlike fruits of the blackthorn tree) and various seeds of berries growing in the wild.[13] Hair analysis was used to examine his diet from several months before.

Pollen in the first meal showed that it had been consumed in a mid-altitude conifer forest, and other pollens indicated the presence of wheat and legumes, which may have been domesticated crops. Pollen grains of hop-hornbeam were also discovered. The pollen was very well preserved, with the cells inside remaining intact, indicating that it had been fresh (a few hours old) at the time of Ötzi's death, which places the event in the spring. Einkorn wheat is harvested in the late summer, and sloes in the autumn; these must have been stored from the previous year.

In 2009, a CAT scan revealed that the stomach had shifted upward to where his lower lung area would normally be. Analysis of the contents revealed the partly digested remains of ibex meat, confirmed by DNA analysis, suggesting he had a meal less than two hours before his death. Wheat grains were also found.[14]

High levels of both copper particles and arsenic were found in Ötzi's hair. This, along with Ötzi's copper axe which is 99.7% pure copper, has led scientists to speculate that Ötzi was involved in copper smelting.[15]

By examining the proportions of Ötzi's tibia, femur and pelvis, Christopher Ruff has determined that Ötzi's lifestyle included long walks over hilly terrain. This degree of mobility is not characteristic of other Copper Age Europeans. Ruff proposes that this may indicate that Ötzi was a high-altitude shepherd.[16]

Using modern 3-D technology, a facial reconstruction has been created for the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy. It shows Ötzi looking old for his 45 years, with deep-set brown eyes, a beard, a furrowed face, and sunken cheeks. He is depicted looking tired and ungroomed.[17]


Ötzi apparently had whipworm (Trichuris trichiura), an intestinal parasite. During CT scans, it was observed that three or four of his right ribs had been cracked when he had been lying face down after death, or where the ice had crushed his body. One of his fingernails (of the two found) shows three Beau's lines indicating he was sick three times in the six months before he died. The last incident, two months before he died, lasted about two weeks.[18] Also, it was found that his epidermis, the outer skin layer, was missing, a natural process from his mummification in ice.[7] Ötzi's teeth showed considerable internal deterioration from cavities. These oral pathologies may have been brought about by his grain-heavy, high carbohydrate diet.[19]


Life-size standing and fully outfitted statue of Ötzi
Reconstruction of how Ötzi may have looked when alive (Museum Bélesta, Ariège, France)

Ötzi had several carbon tattoos including groups of short, parallel, vertical lines to both sides of the lumbar spine, a cruciform mark behind the right knee, and various marks around both ankles. Radiological examination of his bones showed "age-conditioned or strain-induced degeneration" in these areas, including osteochondrosis and slight spondylosis in the lumbar spine and wear-and-tear degeneration in the knee and especially the ankle joints.[20] It has been speculated that these tattoos may have been related to pain relief treatments similar to acupressure or acupuncture. If so, this is at least 2000 years before their previously known earliest use in China (c. 1000 BC).[21]

Clothes and shoes

Line drawing of a right shoe
An artist's impression of Ötzi's right shoe
Replicas of Ötzi's clothes, Naturhistorisches Museum Wien

Ötzi's clothes were sophisticated. He wore a cloak made of woven grass[22] and a coat, a belt, a pair of leggings, a loincloth and shoes, all made of leather of different skins. He also wore a bearskin cap with a leather chin strap. The shoes were waterproof and wide, seemingly designed for walking across the snow; they were constructed using bearskin for the soles, deer hide for the top panels, and a netting made of tree bark. Soft grass went around the foot and in the shoe and functioned like modern socks. The coat, belt, leggings and loincloth were constructed of vertical strips of leather sewn together with sinew. His belt had a pouch sewn to it that contained a cache of useful items: a scraper, drill, flint flake, bone awl and a dried fungus.

The shoes have since been reproduced by a Czech academic, who said that "because the shoes are actually quite complex, I'm convinced that even 5,300 years ago, people had the equivalent of a cobbler who made shoes for other people". The reproductions were found to constitute such excellent footwear that it was reported that a Czech company offered to purchase the rights to sell them.[23] However, a more recent hypothesis by British archaeologist Jacqui Wood says that Ötzi's "shoes" were actually the upper part of snowshoes. According to this theory, the item currently interpreted as part of a "backpack" is actually the wood frame and netting of one snowshoe and animal hide to cover the face.[2]

Tools and equipment

A knife made from stone, and a woven sheath
Ötzi's flint knife and its sheath

Other items found with the Iceman were a copper axe with a yew handle, a flint-bladed knife with an ash handle and a quiver of 14 arrows with viburnum and dogwood shafts. Two of the arrows, which were broken, were tipped with flint and had fletching (stabilizing fins), while the other 12 were unfinished and untipped. The arrows were found in a quiver with what is presumed to be a bow string, an unidentified tool, and an antler tool which might have been used for sharpening arrow points.[24] There was also an unfinished yew longbow that was 1.82 metres (72 in) long.[25]

In addition, among Ötzi's possessions were berries, two birch bark baskets, and two species of polypore mushrooms with leather strings through them. One of these, the birch fungus, is known to have antibacterial properties, and was likely used for medicinal purposes. The other was a type of tinder fungus, included with part of what appeared to be a complex firestarting kit. The kit featured pieces of over a dozen different plants, in addition to flint and pyrite for creating sparks.

Ötzi's copper axe was of particular interest, as it is the only complete prehistoric axe so far discovered. 60 centimetres (24 in) long, the axe's haft was made from yew tree bark, while the handle of the axe was made from yew branch and leather binding. The copper axe blade extended out of the leather binding and was 9.5 cm long.[26] Ötzi lived 5,300 years ago, and humans were not thought to have discovered copper for another 1,000 years, forcing archaeologists to re-date the copper age.[27]

Genetic analysis

A group of scientists have sequenced Ötzi's full genome and promised to reveal it in 2011.[28] Dr. Eduard Egarter-Vigl said in an interview that the Y-DNA of Ötzi belongs to the subclade G2a4.[29] Analysis of his mitochondrial DNA has shown that Ötzi belongs to the K1 subclade, but cannot be categorized into any of the three modern branches of that subclade (K1a, K1b or K1c). The new subclade has provisionally been named K1ö for Ötzi.[30] Multiplex assay study was able to confirm that the Iceman's mtDNA belongs to a new European mtDNA clade with a very limited distribution amongst modern data sets.[31] He is most closely related to southern Europeans, particularly geographically isolated populations of Sardinia, Sicily, and the Iberian Peninsula. DNA analysis also showed him at high risk of atherosclerosis and the presence of the DNA sequence of Borrelia burgdorferi making him the earliest known human with Lyme disease. [32]

Cause of death

A hand-built memorial made of flat, gray stones roughly shaped like an obelisk at the site where the Iceman was found
The Ötzi memorial on Tiesenjoch, near the Similaun mountain, where Ötzi the Iceman was found, in the Ötztal Alps

Initial speculation

It was initially believed that Ötzi died from exposure during a winter storm. Later it was speculated that Ötzi may have been a victim of a ritual sacrifice, perhaps for being a chieftain.[33][34] This explanation was inspired by theories previously advanced for the first millennium B.C. bodies recovered from peat bogs such as the Tollund Man and the Lindow Man.[34]

Theories involving struggle followed by cold death

In 2001 X-rays and a CT scan revealed that Ötzi had an arrowhead lodged in his left shoulder when he died,[35] and a matching small tear on his coat.[36] The discovery of the arrowhead prompted researchers to theorize Ötzi died of blood loss from the wound, which would likely have been fatal even if modern medical techniques had been available.[37] Further research found that the arrow's shaft had been removed before death, and close examination of the body found bruises and cuts to the hands, wrists and chest and cerebral trauma indicative of a blow to the head. One of the cuts was to the base of his thumb that reached down to the bone but had no time to heal before his death. Currently it is believed that death was caused by a blow to the head, though researchers are unsure if this was due to a fall, or from being struck with a rock by another person.[38] Unpublished and thus unconfirmed DNA analyses claim they revealed traces of blood from four other people on his gear: one from his knife, two from the same arrowhead, and a fourth from his coat.[39] Interpretations of these findings were that Ötzi killed two people with the same arrow, and was able to retrieve it on both occasions, and the blood on his coat was from a wounded comrade he may have carried over his back.[36] Ötzi's unnatural posture in death (frozen body, face down, left arm bent across the chest) suggests that the theory of a solitary death from blood loss, hunger, cold and weakness is untenable. Rather, before death occurred and rigor mortis set in, the Iceman was turned on to his stomach in the effort to remove the arrow shaft.[40]

The DNA evidence suggests that he was assisted by companions who were also wounded; pollen and food analysis suggests that he was out of his home territory. The copper axe could not have been made by him alone. It would have required a group tribal effort to mine, smelt and cast the copper axe head. This may indicate that Ötzi was part of an armed raiding party involved in a skirmish, perhaps with a neighboring tribe, and this skirmish had gone badly. When the Iceman's mitochondrial DNA was analyzed by Franco Rollo and his colleagues,[41] it was discovered that he had genetic markers associated with reduced fertility. It has been speculated that this may have affected his social acceptance, or at least that his infertility could have had social implications within his tribal group, which could have played a role in the chain of events that led to the confrontation.[42]

Burial theory

In 2010, it was proposed that Ötzi died at a much lower altitude and was buried higher in the mountains, as posited by archaeologist Alessandro Vanzetti of the Sapienza University of Rome and his colleagues.[43] According to their study of the items found near Ötzi and their locations, it is possible that the iceman may have been placed above what has been interpreted as a stone burial mound but was subsequently moved with each thaw cycle that created a flowing watery mix driven by gravity before being re-frozen.[44]

While archaeobotanist Klaus Oeggl of the University of Innsbruck agrees that the natural process described probably caused the body to move from the ridge that includes the stone formation, he pointed out that the paper provided no compelling evidence to demonstrate that the scattered stones constituted a burial platform.[44] Moreover, biological anthropologist Albert Zink argues that the iceman’s bones display no dislocations that would have resulted from a downhill slide and that the intact blood clots in his arrow wound would show damage were the body carted up the mountain.[44]

In either case, the burial theory does not contradict the possibility of a violent cause of death as stated in the preceding theories.

Legal dispute

Italian law entitled the Simons to a finders' fee from the South Tyrolean provincial government of 25% of the value of Ötzi. In 1994 the authorities offered a "symbolic" reward of 10 million lire (€5,200), which the Simons turned down.[45] In 2003, the Simons filed a lawsuit which asked a court in Bolzano to recognize their role in Ötzi's discovery and declare them his "official discoverers". The court decided in the Simons' favor in November 2003, and at the end of December that year the Simons announced that they were seeking US$300,000 as their fee. The provincial government decided to appeal.[46]

In addition, two people came forward to claim that they were part of the same mountaineering party that came across Ötzi and discovered the body first:

  • Magdalena Mohar Jarc, a Slovenian actress, who alleged that she discovered the corpse first, and shortly after returning to an alpine house, asked Helmut Simon to take photographs of Ötzi.
  • Sandra Nemeth, from Switzerland, who contended that she found the corpse before Helmut and Erika Simon, and that she spat on Ötzi to make sure that her DNA would be found on the body later. She asked for a DNA test on the remains, but experts believed that there was little chance of finding any trace.[47]

The rival claims were heard by a Bolzano court. The legal case angered Mrs. Simon, who alleged that neither woman was present on the mountain that day.[47] This position is supported by a detailed description of the Iceman's discovery by Austrian researcher Elisabeth Rastbichler-Zissernig.[48] In 2005, Mrs. Simon's lawyer said: "Mrs. Simon is very upset by all this and by the fact that these two new claimants have decided to appear 14 years after Ötzi was found."[47]

In 2004, Helmut Simon died. Two years later, in June 2006, an appeals court affirmed that the Simons had indeed discovered the Iceman and were therefore entitled to a finder's fee. It also ruled that the provincial government had to pay the Simons' legal costs. After this ruling, Mrs. Erika Simon reduced her claim to €150,000. The provincial government's response was that the expenses it had incurred to establish a museum and the costs of preserving the Iceman should be considered in determining the finder's fee. It insisted it would pay no more than €50,000. In September 2006, the authorities appealed the case to Italy's highest court, the Court of Cassation.[46]

On 29 September 2008 it was announced that the provincial government and Mrs. Simon had reached a settlement of the dispute, under which she would receive €150,000 in recognition of Ötzi's discovery by her and her late husband and the tourist income that it attracts.[45][49]

"Ötzi's curse"

Influenced by the "Curse of the Pharaohs" and the media theme of cursed mummies, claims have been made that Ötzi is cursed. The allegation revolves around the deaths of several people connected to the discovery, recovery and subsequent examination of Ötzi. It is alleged that they have died under mysterious circumstances. These persons include co-discoverer Helmut Simon,[50] and Konrad Spindler, the first examiner of the mummy in Austria at a local morgue in 1991.[51] To date, the deaths of seven people, of which four were the result of some violence in the form of accidents, have been attributed to the alleged curse. In reality hundreds of people were involved in the recovery of Ötzi and are still involved in studying the body and the artifacts found with it. The fact that a small percentage of them have died over the years is not peculiar.[52]

See also


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  2. ^ a b Norman Hammond (21 February 2005), "Iceman was wearing 'earliest snowshoes'", The Times, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/court_and_social/article516866.ece 
  3. ^ James Neill (last updated 27 October 2004), Otzi, the 5,300 Year Old Iceman from the Alps: Pictures & Information, http://www.wilderdom.com/evolution/OtziIcemanAlpsPictures.htm, retrieved 8 March 2007 
  4. ^ See the topographic map Val Senales – Schnalstal, Carta Topografica per Escursionisti 1:25.000, Tabacco, 1996.
  5. ^ WWI bodies are found on glacier, BBC News, 23 August 2004, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3592268.stm 
  6. ^ a b Rory Carroll (26 September 2000), "Iceman is defrosted for gene tests: New techniques may link Copper Age shepherd to present-day relatives", The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,373487,00.html 
  7. ^ a b James M. Deem (3 January 2008), Ötzi: Iceman of the Alps: His health, Mummy Tombs, http://www.mummytombs.com/otzi/health.htm, retrieved 6 January 2008 
  8. ^ Egarter-Vigl, Eduard (2006), "The Preservation of the Iceman Mummy", in Marco Samadelli (in English), The Chalcolithic Mummy, Volume 3, In Search of Immortality, Folio Verlag, p. 54, ISBN 9783852563374 
  9. ^ Wolfgang Müller [] et al. (31 October 2003), "Origin and Migration of the Alpine Iceman", Science (AAAS) 302 (5646): 862–866, doi:10.1126/science.1089837, PMID 14593178, http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/302/5646/862, retrieved 18 October 2007, Lay summary (16 December 2007) 
  10. ^ Franco Rollo [] et al. (19 January 2006), "Fine Characterization of the Iceman's mtDNA Haplogroup", American Journal of Physical Anthropology 130 (4): 557–64, doi:10.1002/ajpa.20384, PMID 16425231 
  11. ^ Ermini, Luca [] et al. (2008), "Complete Mitochondrial Genome Sequence of the Tyrolean Iceman", Current Biology 18 (21): 1687–1693, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2008.09.028, PMID 18976917 
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  22. ^ In the book Cookwise by Shirley Corriher, the point is made (in relation to cooking) that plant leaves have a waterproof, waxy cuticle which makes raindrops roll off, with the comment "it was interesting that the 5,000-year-old Alpine traveler ... had a grass raincoat": Shirley O. Corriher (1997), Cookwise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking, New York, N.Y.: William Morrow, p. 312, ISBN 9780688102296 
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  41. ^ Surprising Results Of Complete Mitochondrial Genome Of 5,000-Year-Old Mummy
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  48. ^ Elisabeth Rastbichler-Zissernig (3 September 2001), Der Mann vom Hauslabjoch – von der Entdeckung bis zur Bergung [The Hauslabjoch man – from the discovery to the retrieval], University of Innsbruck, http://www.uibk.ac.at/forschung/alpine_vorzeit/fundgeschichte/fundgeschichte.pdf, retrieved 6 January 2008  (in German).
  49. ^ Nick Squires (29 September 2008), "Oetzi The Iceman's discoverers finally compensated: A bitter dispute over the payment of a finder's fee for two hikers who discovered the world famous Oetzi The Iceman mummy has finally been settled", The Daily Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/austria/3105153/Oetzi-the-icemans-discoverers-finally-compensated.html 
  50. ^ <Please add first missing authors to populate metadata.> (19 October 2004), "Iceman's finder missing", The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/austria/article/0,,1330689,00.html ; Stephen Goodwin (25 October 2004), "Helmut Simon: Finder of a Bronze Age man in the alpine snow [obituary]", The Independent, http://news.independent.co.uk/people/obituaries/article30165.ece 
  51. ^ Barbara McMahon (20 April 2005), "Scientist seen as latest 'victim' of Iceman", The Guardian, http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/sciences/story/0,,1463998,00.html 
  52. ^ The Curse of the Ice Mummy, a television documentary screened on UK Channel 4 on 8 March 2007. See also Kathy Marks (5 November 2005), "Curse of Oetzi the Iceman strikes again", The Independent, http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/article324955.ece  (also reported as Kathy Marks (5 November 2005), "Curse of Oetzi the Iceman claims another victim", New Zealand Herald, http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/2/story.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10353742 ); Nick Squires (5 November 2005), "Seventh victim of the Ice Man's 'curse'", The Daily Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/11/05/woetzi05.xml 

Further reading



  • Deem, James (2008), Bodies from the Ice, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, p. 64, ISBN 10: 061880045X, http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/catalog/titledetail.cfm?titleNumber=552123 
  • Bortenschlager, Sigmar; Oeggl, Klaus, eds. (2000), The Iceman and His Natural Environment: Palaeobotanical Results, Wien; New York, N.Y.: Springer, ISBN 3211826602 .
  • Fowler, Brenda (2000), Iceman: Uncovering the Life and Times of a Prehistoric Man Found in an Alpine Glacier, New York, N.Y.: Random House, ISBN 0679431675 (hbk.) .
  • Spindler, Konrad; translated from the German by Ewald Osers (2001), The Man in the Ice: The Preserved Body of a Neolithic Man Reveals the Secrets of the Stone Age, London: Phoenix, ISBN 0753812606 .
  • De Marinis, Raffaele C.; Brillante, Giuseppe (1998), La Mummia del Similaun: Ötzi, l'Uomo Venuto dal Ghiaccio [The Mummy of the Similaun: Ötzi, the Man who Came from the Ice], Venice, Italy: Marsilio, ISBN 883177073X  (Italian)
  • Fleckinger, Angelika; Steiner, Hubert (1998 (2000 printing)), L'Uomo Venuto dal Ghiaccio [The Man who Came from the Ice], Bolzano, Italy: Folio, ISBN 8886857039 (pbk.)  (Italian)

External links

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