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Ötzi the Iceman

Ötzi the Iceman (IPA ), Frozen Fritz, and Similaun Man are modern nicknames of a well-preserved natural mummy of a man from about 3300 BC (53 centuries ago), 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.

Discovery

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.

Subsequent surveys in October 1991 showed that the body had been located 92.56 meters inside Italian territory (). 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. 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.

The body

By current estimates, at the time of his death Ötzi was approximately tall, weighed about and was about 45 years of age. When his body was found, it weighed . 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 kilometres further north. 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.

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.

Health

Ötzi 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.His fingernail (only one was found) shows three beau lines indicating he was sick three times in the six months before he died. The last incident, two months before he died, lasted about two weeks. Also, it was found that his epidermis, the outer skin layer, was missing, a natural process from his mummification in ice.

Tattoos

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. It has been speculated that they may be related to acupuncture.

Clothes and shoes

Ötzi's clothes were quite sophisticated. He wore a cloak made of woven grass and a coat, 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 coat, 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 awl, 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. 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.

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 arrows with viburnum and dogwood shafts. Two of the arrows, which were broken, were tipped with flint and had fletching (stabilizing vents), while the other 12 were unfinished and untipped. The arrows were found in a quiver with what is presumed to be a bow string, a tool of some sort, and some antler which might have been used for making arrow points. There was also an unfinished yew longbow that was long.

In addition, among Ötzi's possessions were berries, two birch bark baskets, and 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

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. 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. In 2001 X-rays and a CT scan revealed that Ötzi had an arrowhead lodged in one shoulder when he died, and a matching small tear on his coat. 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. 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 no 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. 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. Ötzi's unnatural posture in death (frozen body, face down, left arm bent across the chest) suggests that the 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.

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.

Legal dispute over Ötzi's discovery

Italian law entitled the Simons to a finders' fee of 25% of the value of Ötzi the Iceman from the Bolzano provincial government. In 1994 the authorities offered a "symbolic" reward of 10 million lire (€5,200), which the Simons turned down. 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". The court decided in the Simons' favor in November 2003, and at the end of December that year the Simons announced that they were seeking US$300,000 as their fee. The provincial government decided to appeal.

In addition, two people came forward to claim that they were part of the same mountaineering party that came across Ötzi and discovered the body first:

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

The rival claims were heard by a Bolzano court. The legal case angered Mrs. Simon, who alleged that neither woman was present on the mountain that day. This position is supported by a detailed description of the Iceman's discovery by Austrian researcher Elisabeth Rastbichler-Zissernig. 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."

In 2004, Helmut Simon died. Two years later, in June 2006, an 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 costs. 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.

On 29 September 2008 it was announced that the provincial government and Mrs. Simon had reached a settlement of the dispute, under which she would receive €150,000 in recognition of Ötzi's discovery by her and her late husband and the tourist income that it attracts.

"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, and Konrad Spindler, the first examiner of the mummy in Austria at a local morgue in 1991. 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.

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