On September 19th, 1991, two German tourists made a shocking discovery while hiking in the Ötztal Alps.
When these two men decided to go up into the mountains that day, they had no idea that they would find something that no one had ever seen before…
Buried in the Mountains
What they discovered was the body of a well-preserved natural mummy of a man who lived around 3,300 BC. The explorers nicknamed him Ötzi and he would prove to be a missing link between modern Europeans and ancient man. The red arrow shows where hikers found the body, poking out of a glacier near the border of Italy and Austria at an altitude of about 10,500 feet.
A model depicted here indicates where the Iceman was found. The body can be seen near the center, half-sheathed in ice. A pack, containing some of his belongings and weapons, was found near his head.
A rich assortment of Neolithic artifacts were scattered around the body, including the Iceman’s dagger which had a blade made a flint and what appeared to be a wicker sheath.
Recently, doctor Eduard Egarter Vigl and several colleagues decided to examine the Iceman using modern techniques. Scans showed an arrowhead lodged in an artery in the Iceman’s shoulder.
X-rays of the Iceman’s left shoulder helped the team find the fatal arrowhead, which would have caused a quick and bloody demise.
6. Head Wounds
Further investigation by neurosurgeons uncovered remnants of a blood clot, which suggested some sort of brain trauma around the time of the Iceman’s death.
Probing the Body
Scientists tested and probed within the Iceman’s remains for nearly nine hours. Within this time frame, they harvested what they consider to be dozens of clues about Ötzi’s life and death.
8. Taking Samples
The investigation allowed scientists to extract remnants of the Iceman’s last meal and stomach contents, as well as various bone and tissue samples.
Among the evidence of the Iceman’s daily life, examiners found a cross-shaped tattoo, near his knee, which still stands out on his leathery skin. They believe it may have been a folk remedy for arthritic joint pain.
Grasping for Weapons
Here, the Iceman’s arm thaws on a sheet of foil. Scientists believe he may have been grasping one of his spears at the time of his death, ready to defend himself even as he bled to death.
The researchers allowed the Iceman to thaw out overnight and collected the meltwater, which they analyzed for the bacteria that might have hastened the decomposition of the mummy.
On the Slab
When the autopsy was completed, the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy returned the thawed Iceman to a temperature of 21°F.
It seemed that on Ötzi’s last trek through the ancient Alps, he wore hay-and-hide shoes (above, on a glass model) that were held together with bark fibers.
Neolithic First Aid
Within Ötzi’s backpack, scientists found two pieces of what appeared to be birch fungus on leather straps, possibly used to stanch bleeding and prevent infection.
The Iceman was well-equipped for survival in the harsh wilderness and had an ax with a rarely seen, copper blade.
These two arrows were common tools for Neolithic man and would have served Ötzi well for hunting and self-defense.
Perhaps the most unique item in Ötzi’s pack was a wizened maple leaf. Researchers believe that it might have been used to wrap embers and was fresh and green when the Iceman picked it.
This tangle of string, which is believed to be bowstring, remains a knotted mystery to this day.
The First Reeboks
The Iceman’s shoes which were made of hay inside deer and bearskin are among the oldest ever found and would have proven to be extremely warm despite the frigid terrain.
Sadly, Ötzi’s frigid existence means that he must be put back on display soon after examinations. Pathologists coat the mummy with a fine spray of sterilized water, which freezes on contact to form a glaze that protects from contamination and reduces dehydration.
Portrait of Early Man
This artist’s rendering seems to reflect what would have been the rangy, rugged Neolithic human being that was Ötzi, the Iceman.
The discovery of the Iceman is perhaps one of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries of the 20th century. He currently resides in a cold and familiarly glacial chamber at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy.
[Image Credit: Robert Clark]