Otzi, known as the Iceman, is the frozen mummy of a man that lived in the 4th millennium BC, around 3350 and 3105 BC. He was discovered in the Otzal Alps located on the border of Italy and Austria. Otzi is suspected to have been murdered.
He was wounded by an arrowhead that was implanted in his left shoulder but also had a variety of other wounds. This is all that is known of his life and death. However, he is also Europe’s oldest known human mummy and gives an insight into the Copper Age of Europe, right between the Bronze and Iron Ages.
He is currently displayed along with his belongings, including a valuable copper axe, in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy. The interesting thing about this axe is that it came from Central Italy.
It had been assumed that the axe had come from the Alpine Area and Balkan regions, but recent discoveries have indicated that the copper was mined in Italy. But this is a valuable and well crafted tool and begs the question: if he was murdered, why didn’t his attackers take it?
Could something else have happened?
The Discovery of Otzi
Otzi was discovered in 1991, on the 19th of September by two tourists from Germany on the east ridge of Fineilspitze peak on the Italian Austrian border, near the Similaun mountain across from the Tisenjoch pass. The tourists at first believed that they had discovered the body of a recently deceased mountaineer.
They contacted the local gendarme (local police) and a nearby keeper of the Similaunhutte site. They attempted to move the body but realized that it was frozen within the ice below. They used a mixture of pneumatic drills and ice axes but had to stop due to poor weather conditions.
The body was finally freed on 22nd September, and recovered the next day. Otzi was then moved across to the office of a medical examiner in Innsbruck along with some items that were found nearby.
Konrad Spindler from the University of Innsbruck investigated the items on the body on the 24th of September. He dated them to around 4,000 years old and analyzed tissue samples received from the corpse. They were sent off to be researched and the results came back and confirmed that they came from the period 3359 to 3105 BC.
Sadly, there was a dispute over who received Otzi’s body. The border between North and South Tyrol was defined as the watershed of the rivers Inn and Etsch. The border was complicated by the glacier which was near Tisenjoch.
Technically, Otzzi’s body was found on the Austrian side, it was claimed that it had been located inside the Italian borders as determined by the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye of 1919. South Tyrol claimed property rights and thus claimed the body, but they did let the University of Innsbruck complete their research.
Otzi’s body has been analyzed many times thoroughly and extensively. It has been measured, x-rayed, and dated. Since 2016, the body has been determined to be around 5ft 3 inches (160 cm) tall and is expected to have weighed around 110 lb (50kg). Otzi is estimated to have been 45 years old when he died.
The body had only partially deteriorated because it was encased in ice shortly after death, preserving him extremely well. Given this, there was much to discover about his life.
There was enough of his tooth enamel existing to indicate that Otzi spent his childhood within South Tyrol but lived mostly in the valleys around 31 miles (50km) to the North of Feldthurns, a commune in Italy.
More analysis indicated that Otzi perhaps had eaten only 2 hours before his death His preservation was such that his stomach contents were extant, and we can tell what his diet was like: meat from ibex and some grains.
Otzi was also subjected to hair analysis that showed that he had consumed pollen from a nearby forest and other domestic food groups such as legumes and wheat. The samples received were very fresh which indicates that Otzi perhaps died in the springtime when he was harvesting.
There were also high levels of copper and arsenic found in the hair, some of which matched the axe, which has led to scientists believing that he was involved in some capacity in copper smelting. As well as his hair, the bones found were analyzed and have indicated that Otzi likely walked large distances over hilly terrain perhaps associating him with a high-altitude shepherding lifestyle.
The Axe and Other Tools
Otzi was discovered with a 99.7% copper axe made with a yew wood handle, a chert-bladed knife with an ash wood handle, and a quiver of 14 arrows. Two of the arrows were tipped with flint and had stabilizing fins but were broken when they were discovered.
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The other arrows were all unfinished and thus had no tips. The arrows came along with an unidentified tool, a bowstring, and a tool made from antlers that may have been used to sharpen arrows. All of this was accompanied by an unfinished yew longbow.
In addition to these items, Otzi was carrying two birch baskets, berries, and two species of mushrooms that had leather strings through them. It is expected that at least one of the species of mushrooms was used for medicinal purposes. There was also a tinder fungus that came with a complex fire-creating kit.
Otzi’s copper axe was particularly interesting to archaeologists. The axe’s haft was 24” (60cm) long and made from yew bark with a right-angled crook at the shoulder which led to the blade. The axe head was 4” (10cm) long and made from almost pure copper created through a mix of casting, cold forging, polishing and finally sharpening.
A recent study has shown that the copper came from Southern Tuscany. It is unclear whether he made it or if he traded it as a tool. The forked end of the crook was fixed using birch tar and leather lashing.
It shows clear signs that it was used as a cutting and chopping tool. It was a valuable tool at the time and has become even more valuable in the present day. It was not only a weapon and a tool but also a status symbol for Otzi.
Whether he was left in the mountains by design or by accident, the axe gives an insight into his status during life. Sadly though, there is nothing on the man himself or in his surroundings to explain why the axe was not taken.
Perhaps he was taken by surprise and the axe was missed. Perhaps he met with an accident and the conclusions about his murder are inaccurate. All we can say is that we are lucky to have it preserved as well as the body of the Iceman.
Top Image: Reconstruction of Otzi the Iceman. If he was murdered, why didn’t the murderers take his extremely valuable copper axe? Source: OetziTheIceman / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
By Kurt Readman