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All details you always wanted to know about the glacier mummy

It is 19 September 1991: The German couple Erika and Helmut Simon made a truly sensational discovery while hiking across Niederjochferner glacier - even if they did not suspect it at the time. They literally “stumble” over a corpse and - at first - they assume that it is a mountain climber who has had an accident. Not even close. As it turned out later, the mummified corpse has been in the ice for more than 5300 years. Otzi the Iceman was rescued, somehow also born and has since been considered one of the oldest (and best-preserved) mummies in the world. Here you can find out everything you always wanted to know about the famous glacier mummy.

From the Neolithic Age to the present

Since the discovery of the wet mummy in 1991, which by the way celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, a crowd of archaeologists, doctors and criminologists have worked on the research object of Ötzi. They continuously found out new and interesting details about the "Man from the Ice".

But let's start from the very beginning: How did Ötzi get his name after all? That can be answered quite easily and without using radiocarbon analysis. Because the mummy was found in the Ötztal Alps, the Austrian journalist Karl Wendl gave him the name “Ötzi”. A term that should remain and go down in contemporary history.

Otzi the iceman

Erika Simon at the finding site with the Ötzi double
© Alexander Maria Lohmann

Autopsy of a Stone Age man

If you were to write a profile about Ötzi, the following details should not be missing: He was about 48 years old, approx. 160 cm tall and weighed 50 kg during his lifetime. Researchers believe he had shoulder-length, dark, wavy hair and a beard. In all probability his skin was fairly tanned.

The first reconstruction of the Stone Age man was made in 2011 by the Dutch artists Adrien and Alfons Kennis and can be admired in South Tyrol’s Archaeological Museum in Bolzano, where the real Ötzi can be admired. As the rocky basin in which the mummy was found lies on South Tyrolean territory, Ötzi and his hunting utensils were transferred to Bolzano in 1998.

At around 48 years of age, Ötzi was older than the average of his contemporaries - as the archaeologist Walter Leitner states. He is a professor at the University of Innsbruck, still doing research on the glacier mummy up to this day. So Ötzi was fairly old. And not healthy. As science found out, the Neolithic man suffered from tooth decay, periodontal disease and borreliosis. He also had gastritis and was infected with the helicobacter stomach bacterium. The medical file could be continued almost ad infinitum.

Otzi the iceman

© South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology | EURAC/Samadelli/Staschitz

Otzi the iceman

Das Ötzi Double
© South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology | Ochsenreiter

Otzi the iceman

Vitrinenfenster zur Kühlzelle
© South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology | Ochsenreiter

Otzi the iceman

© Ötztal Tourismus | Marco Samadelli

Otzi the iceman

Tattoos brought relief

When it comes to body decoration, Ötzi was far ahead of his time. A total of 61 tattoos adorned his battered body. But the Stone Age man was less concerned with his look as the tattoos were meant to relieve pain. For example, a tattoo made up of four small lines is located on a rib and marks the biliary meridian - Ötzi had 3 gallstones, as doctors know today.

 

Niederjochferner crime scene

All those who now suspect that the Stone Age man departed this life due to his countless complaints are wrong. For many years, experts puzzled over the cause of death until an X-ray examination revealed that Ötzi was killed by an arrow shot in his back.

Since that time, criminologists have been wondering what exactly happened at Niederjochferner’s crime scene on that fateful day. Thanks to sophisticated investigation methods, experts have absolutely valid answers and were able to reconstruct the course of events at least to a certain extent.

One thing is for sure: Ötzi felt safe shortly before his death and did not expect an attack from ambush. It is clearly evidenced by his belongings, which he spread out around him. But it is also proven by his full stomach: Shortly before he was murdered, the man from the ice had a decent meal. Grain porridge, muscle fibers from red deer and ibex, moss, fern and leaves - scientists identified all of this as stomach contents. The approximate time of the crime can also be defined on the basis of the stomach contents, since our ancestors only ate seasonal food. Ötzi must have died on a spring or summer day around 3000 years before Christ.

An act motivated by revenge?

But why exactly did the Stone Age man have to die? Researchers agree on the fact that he was not a victim of robbery, otherwise the attacker would have taken the valuable clothing and the even more valuable ax with him.

His hand could be the solution to this puzzle: It was badly injured, probably due to a violent confrontation days before the murder. Did the attacker and the victim know each other? Was Ötzi the target of an act of revenge or a struggle for power? Was jealousy involved? Difficult to say, at least the attacker wanted to get his opponent out of the way, perhaps on behalf of someone else. It's great luck that the ice of Ötztal’s main Alpine ridge has preserved Ötzi's remains so well that at least the victim can be still researched. Even if there is not the slightest hope of ever finding the attacker: Ötzi the Iceman provides us with sensational knowledge of our most distant past.

Otzi the iceman

Following the footsteps of the Stone Age man

Even 5300 years after the death of the Ice Age man, you can still follow in his footsteps - literally as well as figuratively. At the Ötzi Village in Umhausen, visitors experience close up how the Stone Age people lived, worked, cooked and fought. In addition to a 1: 1 replica of Ötzi’s finding site, the archaeological open-air park includes authentically built huts, working tools and weapons. While making a campfire, doing archery and tanning skins, those interested can enjoy a deep insight into Stone Age village life.

If you want to get to the bottom of this unrivaled Iceman myth, you are strongly recommended to go for a hike to Ötzi’s finding place at high Alpine Tisenjoch saddleback. The starting point for the moderately difficult hike is the mountaineering village of Vent. From here the ascent leads via Martin-Busch-Hütte to Similaunhütte and further on to the place of finding. The walking time for the 15 km long route is about 6 hours (only one way). The trekking provider ASI Reisen offers a few (hiking) stages more, an 8-day Alpine crossing following in Ötzi's footsteps.

If the hike is simply too far for you, we recommend the so-called “Hohler Stein” in Niedertal side valley at 2050 m near Vent. Here archaeologists discovered a Stone Age hunting and shepherd base. Only 10 km beeline from Ötzi’s site, this large and overhanging boulder forms a sheltered place where Stone Age people made fire, cut up the hunted prey and crafted tools and weapons.

When he was discovered on 19 September 1991, the glacier mummy had already been covered by the eternal ice for some 5300 years, according to a radiocarbon study. This makes Ötzi one of the world’s oldest and best-preserved mummies. The "Man from the Ice" was around 48 years old (and therefore older than the average of his contemporaries) before he was killed by an arrow shot in the back.

At 5300 years old, Ötzi was and is one of the oldest and best-preserved mummies world-wide. He was found by chance on 19 September 1991 by hikers at Tisenjoch saddleback in the Ötztal Alps. At first it was assumed that Ötzi was a hunter and gatherer during his life. But in the meantime, however, scientists assume that he was a shepherd. His clothing made of fur and leather allows this conclusion.

The “Man from Tisenjoch”, as Ötzi is also often called, lived some 5300 years ago, around 3258 ± 89 BC. This means that the glacier mummy belongs to the late Neolithic or Copper Age and is one of the oldest and best-preserved human mummies in the world.

Ötzi was found on 19 September 1991 by a German couple while hiking towards Tisenjoch saddleback in the Ötztal Alps. The explorers almost “stumbled” by chance over the glacier mummy and at first assumed that it was a climber who had died in an accident. Completely wrong as it turned out, because the body had been in the ice for about 5300 years.

The “Mummy from Similaun” or “Frozen Fritz”, as Ötzi is also often called, was found in an area freed from snow and ice at Tisenjoch in the Ötztal Alps at an altitude of approx. 3200 meters. A fabulous hiking tour leads to Ötzi’s finding place where a memorial pyramid marks the site. Because the rocky basin in which the wet mummy was found lies on South Tyrolean territory, Ötzi and his utensils were transferred to the Archeology Museum in Bolzano in 1998.

For a long time, the cause of death puzzled the experts until an X-ray examination brought some certainty: Ötzi did not die of natural causes, but was killed by an arrow shot in the back as the arrowhead in his left shoulder shows. The murderer must have attacked him from ambush, because Ötzi thought he was safe. This assumption is indicated by the utensils that he spread around him as well as his full stomach, which showed a sumptuous meal shortly before death. Who is responsible for the death of the “Iceman” will probably remain a mystery forever. Though criminologists are sure that it was not a robber as the attacker did not take Ötzi's clothes and his even more valuable ax with him.

Ötzi was approximately 160 centimeters tall and around 50 kilograms in weight during his lifetime. He probably had shoulder-length, dark, wavy hair and a beard. His skin must have been tanned. An incredible number of 61 tattoos decorated his battered body. The "Man from the Ice" was less concerned with looks than with tattoos in order to alleviate pain and ease countless complaints.

The German couple Erika and Helmut Simon discovered the corpse in the glacier on 19 September 1991 while hiking towards Tisenjoch saddleback in the Ötztal Alps. According to their own statements, they almost “stumbled” over the body lying in the ice. Initially they assumed that it was a climber who had died in an accident. At this point in time, no one suspected that the wet mummy had been here for some 5300 years.

When he was discovered on 19 September 1991, the glacier mummy had already been covered by the eternal ice for some 5300 years, according to a radiocarbon study. This makes Ötzi one of the world’s oldest and best-preserved mummies. The "man from the Ice" was around 48 years old (and therefore older than the average of his contemporaries) before he was killed by an arrow shot in the back.

For a long time, the cause of death puzzled the experts until an X-ray examination brought some certainty: Ötzi did not die of natural causes, but was killed by an arrow shot in the back as the arrowhead in his left shoulder shows. The murderer must have attacked him from ambush, because Ötzi thought he was safe. This assumption is indicated by the utensils that he spread around him as well as his full stomach, which showed a sumptuous meal shortly before death. Who is responsible for the death of the “Iceman” will probably remain a mystery forever. Though criminologists are sure that it was not a robber as the attacker did not take Ötzi's clothes and his even more valuable ax with him.