Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Ötzi the Iceman
Ötzi the Iceman (also spelled Oetzi) is the modern nickname of a well-preserved natural mummy of a man from about 3300 BC, found in 1991 in a glacier of the Ötztaler Alps, near the border between Austria and Italy. The nickname comes from the valley of discovery. It rivals Egyptian "Ginger" as the oldest known human mummy, and has offered an unprecedented view on the habits of Neolithic Europeans.
Ötzi was found by a couple of German tourists, Helmut and Erika Simon, on September 19, 1991. The body was at first thought to be a modern corpse, like several others which had been recently found in the region. It was roughly recovered by the Austrian authorities and taken to Innsbruck, where its true age was finally discovered. Subsequent surveys showed that the body had been located a few meters inside Italian territory. It is now on display at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy.
Helmut Simon disappeared in October 2004 during a walk in the Alps, some 200 kilometers away from the place where Ötzi was found. He was found dead a week afterwards.
At the time of his death, Ötzi was a 30-to-45-year old man, approximately 160 cm (5'3") tall. Analysis of pollen and dust grains and the isotopic composition of his teeth's enamel indicate that he spent his childhood near the present village of Feldthurns , north of Bolzano, but later went to live in valleys about 50 km further north.
He had 57 tattoos, some of which seem to correspond to acupuncture points that coincide with the modern points that would be used to treat symptoms of diseases that Ötzi would seem to have suffered from (digestive parasites and degenerative bone disease).
His clothes, including a woven grass cloak and leather vest and shoes, were quite sophisticated. 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.
Other items found with the Iceman were a copper axe with a yew handle, a flint knife with an ash handle, a quiver full of arrows with viburnum and dogwood shafts and flint heads, and an unfinished yew longbow that was taller than he was.
Among Ötzi's possessions were two species of polypore mushrooms. One of these (the birch fungus ) is known to have antibacterial properties, and was likely used for medical 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.
In 2004, three bodies of frozen Austro-Hungarian soldiers killed during the Battle of San Matteo (1918) were found. One body was sent to a museum in the hope that research on its preservation will help to find about Ötzi's past and future evolution.
An ancient crime?
Analysis of Ötzi's gut contents showed two meals, one of ibex meat, the second of red deer meat, both consumed with some grain. Pollen in the first meal showed that it had been consumed in a mid-altitude conifer forest.
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. A CAT scan revealed that Ötzi had what appeared to be an arrowhead lodged in one shoulder when he died, matching a small tear on his coat. The arrow shaft had been removed, apparently by a companion. He also had bruises and cuts on his hands, wrists, and chest.
From such evidence, and an examination of his weapons, molecular biologist Thomas Loy from the University of Queensland believes that Ötzi and one or two companions were hunters who engaged in a skirmish with a rival group. The fight lasted about a day or two, during which time Ötzi killed at least two enemies with his bow, and recovered the arrow each time. At some point, he may have carried (or been carried by) a companion. Weakened by blood loss, Ötzi apparently put down his equipment neatly against a rock, lay down and expired.
Before the latest evidence, it was speculated that, rather than fleeing attackers, he was ritually killed to propitiate a god or gods, or that he was a chieftain and therefore ritually killed to ensure fertility. One of the most fanciful theories was that he was in fact an Egyptian who had been ritually castrated. Later examination, however, revealed that, though shrunken by the mummification, Ötzi did in fact possess a penis.
The curse of Ötzi is being linked to six deaths. The latest victim is archaeologist Konrad Spindler — the leading expert on the 5,700-year-old corpse.
Shortly before he was diagnosed with cancer the Austrian expert dismissed the link between the five previous deaths. He declared: “I think it’s a load of rubbish. It is all a media hype. The next thing you will be saying I will be next.” He has now died.
The curse began with the death of German tourist Helmut Simon, who found the body. The hiker returned to the region to celebrate winning a £50,000 court battle over rights to the mummy. He set out in fine weather but a blizzard set in and he froze to death — just like the mummy. He had not signed the court papers so his widow did not get the £50,000.
The second victim is Dr Rainer Henn, 64, who is the head of the forensic team who examined the body. He died when his car was in a head-on collision with another vehicle while on his way to give a talk about Oetzi. The cause of the crash has never been revealed.
The third victim is mountaineer Kurt Fritz, who led Dr Henn and the others to the iceman’s body and later gave tours to the site. Although an experienced climber, he died in an avalanche at a mountain region he was very familiar with. Even though the Austrian was crushed to death, no other member of the climbing party was even injured by the crashing rocks.
Austrian journalist Rainer Hoelzl was the fourth victim. He exclusively covered the removal of the body as part of a one-hour documentary that was shown around the world. But he developed a mystery illness — thought to be a brain tumour — that claimed his life in extreme pain a few months after the programme was shown.
Dieter Warnecke is the head of the mountain rescue team that searched for Helmut Simon. Although described as physically fit,Dieter Warnecke collapsed with a heart attack less than an hour after Helmut Simon was lowered into his grave.
- South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology - official website about Ötzi Same information for non MS browsers
- Otzi the Iceman at James M. Deem's Mummy Tombs site.
- BBC programme summary and other useful links
- PBS web site for their Otzi program
- Discovery Channel web site about Ötzi
- Ötzi links (German/Italian/English)
- Plants and the Iceman, Ötzi's Last Journey
- Ötzi finder dies in the Alps
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