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Ötzi the Iceman

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Ötzi the Iceman,[1] or Oetzi, is a well-preserved natural mummy of a man who lived about 5,300 years ago.[2]

The mummy was found in September 1991 by two German hikers in the Schnalstal glacier, Ötztal Alps, near Hauslabjoch on the border between Austria and Italy.[3][4]

He is also known as the Iceman, Similaun Man, Frozen Fritz, and Man from Hauslabjoch. He is Europe's oldest natural human mummy, and has offered a new picture of Chalcolithic (Copper Age) Europeans.

There was a bit of a diplomatic struggle between Austria and Italy for the ownership of the body. His body and belongings are now displayed in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano in the Southern Tyrol (Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol).

There was also a long legal struggle by the finders, plaintiffs Helmut and Erika Simon, for a suitable reward. After many court hearings, the provincial government agreed to pay Erika Simon €150,000. By that time 17 years had passed, and her husband was dead.[5]

Cause of death

In 2001 X-rays and a CT scan revealed that Ötzi had an arrowhead lodged in his left shoulder when he died,[6] and a matching small tear on his coat.[7]

The discovery of the arrowhead led researchers to think Ötzi died of blood loss from the wound, which would likely have been fatal even if modern medical techniques had been available.[8]

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. Cerebral trauma suggested a blow to the head. One of the cuts was to the base of his thumb that reached down to the bone but had no time to heal before his death.

At present it is believed that death was caused by a blow to the head. Researchers are unsure if this was due to a fall, or from being struck with a rock by another person.[9]


The 57 tattoos of Ötzi the Iceman were made from fireplace soot and precious stone crystals.[10] There were groups of short, parallel, vertical lines to both sides of the lumbar spine, a cross-shaped mark behind the right knee, and various marks around both ankles.

X-ray examination of his bones showed "age-conditioned or strain-induced degeneration" in these areas. These tattoos may have been related to pain relief treatments similar to acupuncture. If so, this is at least 2000 years before their previously known earliest use in China (c. 1000 BC).[11]

Ötzi's DNA

DNA sequence analysis has shown that Ötzi had brown eyes, blood type 'O', was lactose intolerant, and was likely to suffer heart disease. He was more closely related to modern Corsicans and Sardinians than to populations in the Alps, where he was discovered. His ancestors probably came from the Middle East as agriculture became more widespread.[12] He was also the first known case of a person infected by the Lyme disease bacterium.[12] He was middle-aged.


  1. pronounced Loudspeaker.png ˈœtsi (info • help)
  2. Norman Hammond (21 February 2005), "Iceman was wearing 'earliest snowshoes'", The Times,
  3. James Neill (last updated 27 October 2004), Otzi, the 5,300 year old Iceman from the Alps: pictures & information,, retrieved 8 March 2007.
  4. "The discover of Ötzi". South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology.
  5. 'Iceman' row ends after 17 years, BBC News, 29 September 2008,
  6. Stephanie Pain (26 July 2001), Arrow points to foul play in ancient iceman's death, New Scientist,
  7. James M. Deem (updated 3 January 2008), Ötzi: Iceman of the Alps: scientific studies,, retrieved 6 January 2008.
  8. Alok Jha (7 June 2007), "Iceman bled to death, scientists say", The Guardian,
  9. Rory Carroll (21 March 2002), "How Oetzi the Iceman was stabbed in the back and lost his fight for life", The Guardian,,,671346,00.html.
  10. [
  11. Dorfer, L; M Moser, F Bahr, K Spindler, E Egarter-Vigl, S Giullén, G Dohr, T Kenner (September 1999), "A medical report from the stone age?", The Lancet 354: 1023–1025, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(98)12242-0 , PMID 10501382 ,, retrieved 25 September 2010.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Palmer, Jason 2012. Oetzi the Iceman's nuclear genome gives new insights. BBC News: Science & Environment. [1]

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