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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Oetzi The Iceman Discovered, September 19, 1991

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Today in 1991, two German tourists discovered a frozen, naturally mummified body in a glacier of the Otztal Alps. This discovery, made completely by accident, has contributed more to our understanding of Copper Age humans than any made previously.

Oetzi the Iceman, as the mummy came to be known, was initially thought to be the corpse of someone lost in the recent past, as this is does occur when the Alps glaciers recede. The couple who made the discovery, Helmut and Erika Simon, went back to their hotel and told the innkeeper, who called the local authorities. Assuming they had another lost
climber on their hands, they handled the mummy roughly, causing damage to his clothing and accidently drilling a hole in his hip bone with a small jackhammer. Once freed from the ice, the mummy was placed in a coffin and taken to a nearby morgue.

It didn't take long for Austrian and Italian authorities to discover that the mummy was much older than originally thought. They estimated that the Iceman died more than five thousand years ago, or 3000 BC. This made him on the oldest and best preserved mummies ever found. The spot at which the Iceman was discovered was surveyed and found to actually be in Italy instead of Austria as originally thought. This helped to quell a growing debate as to who actually owns the mummy.

When Oetzi died, he was about 5' 3" tall (160 cm) and between 40 and 55 years of age. The remains of two meals remained in his digestive system and showed that his diet contained both wild game and possibly domesticated crops such as wheat. The clothes he wore were of surprisingly detailed construction. He wore a woven grass cloak as a coat and his vest and shoes were made of leather. The shoes were waterproof and made wide at the soles so as to make walking on snow easier. Instead of being made of one material, the soles were made of bearskin, the top panels of deer hide. Soft grass was woven into the shoes to act as socks and provide warmth. Researchers duplicated the shoe design using similar materials and found that they made excellent footwear. In fact, a Czechoslovakian footwear company considered mass-producing replicas of the shoes.

Oetzi was carrying a significant amount of equipment when he died, mainly an axe with a copper head, a flint knife, a quiver full of arrows and an unfinished longbow that was more than 5.5 feet tall. He also had what can only be called a firestarting kit, which contained pieces of over a dozen different plants, flint and pyrite for creating sparks.

Oetzi had 57 tattoos on his body which, according to researchers, nearly match modern acupuncture points used to treat the symptoms of various maladies. Analysis showed that the Iceman suffered from osteoarthrosis and intestinal parasites. Analysis of Oetzi's shin bone showed that he went for many long walks over rough, hilly ground. Although we will never know for sure, it is thought that he may have been a shepard.

The cause of the Iceman's death was, at first, a mystery. However, a CAT scan revealed that Oetzi had an arrowhead lodged in one of his shoulders that matched a tear in his cloak, meaning that the injury occurred close to the time of his death. The arrow's shaft had been removed, so Oetzi may have been traveling with a companion who helped him. He had bruises and cuts on his upper body indicative of a fight. Finally, DNA analysis showed that his gear had blood on it from four different people. This evidence has led to speculation that Oetzi was either murdered or accidently shot by a hunting partner who could not get him help in time.

Some people claim that there is a curse related to Oetzi, just as there was with King Tut. Several of the people involved with the discovery and examination of the mummy have died, including Helmut Simon, half of the couple who discovered the body. However, doubters of the curse make the case that since everyone eventually dies, any group of middle-aged people will experience a certain percentage of loss over the course of 15 years. Yet, the mystery lives on.

Today Oetzi the Iceman can be found at the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology in Bolzano, Italy. He is kept in a chamber that is keep 12 degrees Farenheit below freezing with humidity of 99%.

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