Ötzi the Iceman

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Ötzi the Iceman

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Ötzi the Iceman


fl. c.3300 BC
near the present village of Feldthurns (Velturno), north of Bolzano, Italy


fl. c.3300 BC (aged about 45)
Schnalstal glacier, Ötztal Alps, near Hauslabjoch on the border between Austria and Italy

Cause of death

Victim of a crime or ritual sacrifice

Other names

Frozen Fritz; Similaun Man


1.65 m (5.4 ft)


50 kg (110 lb/7.9 st)

Known for

Oldest natural mummy of a Chalcolithic (Copper Age) European man

South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology

Ötzi the Iceman (pronounced [ˈœtsi] (help·info)), Frozen Fritz, and Similaun Man are modern nicknames of a well-preserved natural mummy of a man from about 3300 BC (53 centuries ago),[1] found in 1991 in the Schnalstal glacier in the Ötztal Alps, near Hauslabjoch on the border between Austria and Italy. The nickname comes from Ötztal, the region in which he was discovered. He is Europe's oldest natural human mummy, and has offered an unprecedented view of Chalcolithic (Copper Age) Europeans.


Ötzi the Iceman while still frozen in the glacier, photographed by Helmut Simon upon the discovery of the body in September 1991.

Another early photograph of the body before its removal from the ice.

Ötzi was found by two German tourists from Nuremberg, Helmut and Erika Simon, on 19 September 1991. The body was at first thought to be a modern corpse, like several others which had been recently found in the region. 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 subsequently ascertained. However, during a press conference that was held, people were allowed to take photographs and touch the body. As a result of this, fungus began to grow on the Iceman's skin.[citation needed]

Subsequent surveys in October 1991 showed that the body had been located 92.56 meters inside Italian territory ( 46°46′44″N, 10°50′23″E).[2] Since 1998 it has been on display at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy.

Scientific analyses of Ötzi

The body 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 the Trentino region of Italy.[3] One body was sent to a museum in the hope that research on how the environment affected its preservation will help to find out about Ötzi's past and future evolution.

Ötzi the Iceman, now housed at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy.

The body

By current estimates, at the time of his death Ötzi was approximately 1.65 m (5 ft 5 in) tall,[4] weighed about 50 kg (110 lb/7.9 st)[5] and was about 45 years of age.[4] When his body was found, it weighed 38 kg (84 lb/6.0 st).[4] Because the body was covered in ice shortly after his death, it only partially deteriorated. Analysis of pollen and dust grains and the isotopic composition of his tooth enamel indicate that he spent his childhood near the present village of Feldthurns (Velturno), north of Bolzano, but later went to live in valleys about 50 km further north.[6] 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.

Analysis of Ötzi's intestinal contents showed two meals (the last one about eight hours before his death), one of chamois meat, the other of red deer meat. Both were eaten with some grain as well as some roots and fruits. The grain from both meals was a highly processed einkorn wheat bran, quite possibly eaten in the form of bread. There were also a few kernels of sloes (small plumlike fruits of the blackthorn tree). 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. Also, pollen grains of hop-hornbeam were discovered. The pollen was very well preserved, with even the cells inside still 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. Interestingly, einkorn wheat is harvested in the late summer, and sloes in the autumn; these must have been stored since the year before.

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.[7]

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 Ötzi was a high-altitude shepherd.[8]


He apparently had whipworm (Trichuris trichiura), an intestinal parasite. During CT scans, it was observed that three or four of his right ribs had been squashed when he had been lying face down after death, or where the ice had crushed his body. Also, it was found that his epidermis, the outer skin layer, was missing, a natural process from his mummification in ice.[5]


Ötzi had approximately 57 carbon tattoos consisting of simple dots and lines on his lower spine, behind his left knee, and on his right ankle. Using X-rays, it was determined that the Iceman may have had arthritis in these joints. Some scientists suggest that the designs might have been used to mark the passage from youth to manhood,[citation needed] or it has been speculated that they may be related to acupuncture.[citation needed]

Clothes and shoes

Ötzi with some of the equipment found with him.

Ötzi's flint knife and its sheath.

Ötzi's clothes were quite sophisticated. He wore a cloak made of woven grass and a vest, a belt, a pair of leggings, a loincloth and shoes, all made of leather. 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 top panels, and a netting made of tree bark. Soft grass went around the foot and in the shoe and functioned like warm socks. The vest, 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 arrow, and a dried fungus to be used as tinder.

The shoes have since been reproduced by experts, and found to constitute such excellent footwear that there are plans for commercial production.[9] 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 torso.[citation needed]

Other equipment

Other items found with the Iceman were a copper axe with a yew handle, a flint knife with an ash handle, a quiver of 14 bone-tipped arrows with viburnum and dogwood shafts and flint heads (two arrows were finished, twelve were not), and an unfinished yew longbow that was 1.82 m (72 in) tall.[10] Also found were berries and two birch bark baskets.

Among Ötzi's possessions were 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.

Cause of death

The Ötzi memorial on the Similaun mountain, where Ötzi the Iceman was found, in the Ötztal Alps.

Initially it had been believed that Ötzi died from exposure during a winter storm. Later it was speculated that Ötzi had been a victim of a ritual sacrifice, perhaps for being a chieftain.[11][12] 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.[12] In 2001 X-rays and a CT scan revealed that Ötzi had an arrowhead lodged in one shoulder when he died,[13] and a matching small tear on his coat.[14] 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.[15] 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 not had 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.[16] DNA analysis 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. Interpretations of the 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.[14] Ötzi's unnatural posture in death (frozen body, face down, left arm bent across the chest) suggests that 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.[17]

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 concerted group tribal effort to mine, smelt and cast the copper axe head. This may indicate that Ötzi was actually part of an armed raiding party involved in a skirmish, perhaps with a neighboring tribe, and this skirmish had gone badly. It may also indicate that he was ambushed or attacked by a rival tribe's raiding party on his way to deliver the axe. When the Iceman's mitochondrial DNA was analyzed by Franco Rollo and his colleagues, it was discovered that he had genetic markers associated with reduced fertility. It has been speculated that this may have affected his social acceptance.[18]

Legal dispute over Ötzi's discovery

In 2003, the Simons filed a lawsuit which asked a court in Bolzano, Italy, to recognize their role in Ötzi's discovery and declare them his "official discoverers". Under Italian law, this would entitle them to a finders' fee of 25% of the value of the discovered item from the authorities. In November 2003, the court declared in the Simons favor, and at the end of December 2003, the Simons announced that they were seeking US$300,000 as their fee.

Provincial government officials decided to appeal. In 2004, Helmut Simon died. In June 2006, the 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 fees. 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.[19]

Since the discovery of Ötzi in 1991 and the Simons' lawsuit, two other people have come forward to claim that they were part of the same mountaineering party that came across Ötzi and that they discovered the body first. They are:

  • 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. Mountaineer and explorer Reinhold Messner is apparently appearing as a witness for her.[citation needed]

  • 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 has asked for a DNA test on the remains, but experts believe that there is little chance of finding any trace.

The rival claims are now being heard by a court in Bolzano, Italy. The legal case has angered Mrs. Simon, who alleges that neither woman was present on the mountain that day.[20] This position is supported by a detailed description of the Iceman's discovery by Austrian researcher Elisabeth Rastbichler-Zissernig.[21] 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."[20]

"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 centers around the deaths of several main 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,[22] and Konrad Spindler, the first examiner of the mummy in Austria at a local morgue in 1991.[23] 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. However, hundreds of people were involved in the recovery of Ötzi and are still involved in studying the body and the artifacts found with it; thus it may not be surprising that a few of them have died since the mummy's discovery.[24]


  1. ^ Neill, James (last updated 2004-10-27). "Otzi, the 5,300 Year Old Iceman from the Alps: Pictures & Information". Retrieved on 2007-03-08.

  2. ^ Val Senales - Schnalstal, Carta Topografica per Escursionisti 1:25.000, Tabacco, 1996. It is a topographic map.

  3. ^ "WWI bodies are found on glacier", BBC News (2004-08-23). 

  4. ^ a b c Carroll, Rory (2000-09-26). "Iceman is defrosted for gene tests: New techniques may link Copper Age shepherd to present-day relatives", The Guardian

  5. ^ a b Deem, James M. (2008-01-03). "Ötzi: Iceman of the Alps: His health". Mummy Tombs. Retrieved on 2008-01-06.

  6. ^ Müller, Wolfgang; Henry Fricke, Alex N. Halliday, Malcolm T. McCulloch, Jo-Anne Wartho (2003-10-31). "Origin and Migration of the Alpine Iceman". Science 302 (5646): 862–866. AAAS. doi:10.1126/science.1089837. PMID 14593178. Retrieved on 2007-10-18. Lay summary – Mummy Tombs (2007-12-16). .

  7. ^ "Iceman's final meal", BBC News (2002-09-16). 

  8. ^ Ruff, Christopher (July 2006). "Body size, body proportions, and mobility in the Tyrolean "Iceman"". Journal of Human Evolution 51 (1): 91–101. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2006.02.001. 

  9. ^ Hall, Allan (2005-07-18). "Shoemaker pursues the ultimate sole mate", The Sydney Morning Herald.  Krosnar, Katka (2005-07-17). "Now you can walk in footsteps of 5,000-year-old Iceman – wearing his boots", The Daily Telegraph

  10. ^ Davies, Norman (1996). Europe: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198201710. 

  11. ^ Ives, Sarah (2003-10-30). "Was ancient alpine "Iceman" killed in battle?", National Geographic News. Retrieved on 2007-10-25

  12. ^ a b Rollo, F.; Ubaldi, M.; Ermini, L.; Marota, I. (2002). "Otzi's last meals: DNA analysis of the intestinal content of the Neolithic glacier mummy from the Alps". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99 (20): 12594–12599. doi:10.1073/pnas.192184599. PMID 12244211. 

  13. ^ Pain, Stephanie (2001-07-26). "Arrow points to foul play in ancient iceman's death", NewScientistTech

  14. ^ a b Deem, James M. (updated 2008-01-03). "Ötzi: Iceman of the Alps: Scientific studies". Retrieved on 2008-01-06.

  15. ^ Jha, Alok (2007-06-07). "Iceman bled to death, scientists say", The Guardian

  16. ^ Carroll, Rory (2002-03-21). "How Oetzi the Iceman was stabbed in the back and lost his fight for life", The Guardian

  17. ^ Lorenzi, Rossella (2007-08-31). "Blow to head, not arrow, killed Otzi the iceman", Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).  Winfield, Nicole (2007-08-30). "Ancient murder mystery takes new turn", MSNBC

  18. ^ Morelle, Rebecca (2006-02-03). "Infertility link in iceman's DNA", BBC News

  19. ^ Deem, James M. (last updated 2007-02-27). "Ötzi: Iceman of the Alps: The finder's fee lawsuit". Mummy Tombs. Retrieved on 2007-03-08.

  20. ^ a b Pisa, Nick (2005-10-22). "Cold case comes to court – After 5,300 years", The Daily Telegraph

  21. ^ Rastbichler-Zissernig, Elisabeth (2001-09-03). "Der Mann vom Hauslabjoch – von der Entdeckung bis zur Bergung [The Hauslabjoch man – from the discovery to the retrieval]" (in German). University of Innsbruck. Retrieved on 2008-01-06.

  22. ^ "Iceman's finder missing", The Guardian (2004-10-19).  Goodwin, Stephen (2004-10-25). "Helmut Simon: Finder of a Bronze Age man in the alpine snow [obituary]", The Independent

  23. ^ McMahon, Barbara (2005-04-20). "Scientist seen as latest 'victim' of Iceman", The Guardian

  24. ^ The Curse of the Ice Mummy, a television documentary screened on UK Channel 4 on 8 March 2007. See also Marks, Kathy (2005-11-05). "Curse of Oetzi the Iceman strikes again", The Independent.  The article is also reported as follows: Marks, Kathy (2005-11-05). "Curse of Oetzi the Iceman claims another victim", New Zealand Herald.  Squires, Nick (2005-11-05). "Seventh victim of the Ice Man's 'curse'", The Daily Telegraph

Further reading


  • Dickson, James Holms (2005-06-28). "Plants and the Iceman: Ötzi's last journey". Division of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow. Retrieved on 2007-03-17.

  • Fowler, Brenda (last updated November 2002). "The Iceman's last meal". NOVA Online, PBS. Retrieved on 2007-03-17.

  • Kennedy, Frances (2001-07-26). "Oetzi the Neolithic Iceman was killed by an arrow, say scientists", The Independent

  • Macintyre, Ben (2003-11-01). "We know Oetzi had fleas, his last supper was steak... and he died 5,300 years ago", The Times

  • Murphy, William A., Jr.; zur Nedden, Dieter; Gostner, Paul; Knapp, Rudolf; Recheis, Wolfgang & Seidler, Horst (2003-01-24), "The Iceman: Discovery and imaging", Radiology (Oak Brook, Il.: Radiology) 226: 614–629, doi:10.1148/radiol.2263020338, ISSN: 0033-8419, PMID 12601185, <http://radiology.rsnajnls.org/cgi/content/full/226/3/614> . On-line pre-publication version.


In English

  • Bortenschlager, Sigmar; Klaus Oeggl (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. 

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