Otzi, the 5,300 year old Iceman from the Alps-Oldest natural mummy of a Chalcolithic (Copper Age) European man
Otzi is my 500th cousin, 250 times removed.
In 1991, a 5,300 year old Neolithic man was discovered by hikers during the summer snowmelt in the Austrian Alps. The iceman's body was remarkably intact as were his bow and arrows, dagger, copper axe and other tools, as well as his clothing including a hide coat, grass cloak, leggings, loin cloth and shoes.
A complex drama followed in how to manage "Otzi", the ice mummy. The story is told in in a book by Brenda Fowler (see cover below - highly recommended).
The gradually emerging scientific findings about Otzi's life have been remarkable.
For example, the style of the copper axe and the copper in Otzi's hair suggest that he smelted copper himself using surprisingly advanced techniques. Otzi's last meal was found in his intestine -- eaten about 8 hours before he died, consisting of a grain and herb unleavened bread. But many mysteries remain, such as the story behind the tattoos that covered Otzi's body.
The focus of research in this case study deals with a very ancient subject: a dispute between Austria and Italy over rights to the body of a Neolithic trader found on their border. The discovery of the ancient body also gave us great insight to our past. My key areas of research will concentrate mainly on the aspects that prove this iceman to be a trader: What makes us believe he was a trader? What are the other theories that try to describe who this man was? And if he truly was an ancient trader, what insights can he reveal on ancient trading customs? I will also focus on the actual dispute between Italy and Austria on the significance of ownership of the iceman.
In September of 1991 two Austrian hikers in the Tyrolean Alps stumbled across an ancient secret frozen in time. They discovered the well-preserved body of an ancient man locked in ice for centuries. After careful investigation it was believed that this iceman, nicknamed Otzi for the area in which he was discovered, was actually following an ancient trade route when he died. Many clues pointed to the fact that Otzi was not from the area and must have traveled by foot to look for goods to possibly trade.
While archeologists and historians were excited with the find of the iceman, Italians and Austrians both laid claim to Otzi's ancient remains that resulted in a six-year dispute. The discovery of the iceman has shed light on ancient trade and customs, the trade routes within the area between Austria and Italy and what goods traders came for. If the iceman came for trade, what could he have been looking for? And also, where could he have come from? What types of trade were significant in his time?
There have been many theories attempting to explain who the Iceman really was. Of the more convincing theories is that of being a trader or merchant. The Alps were a busy barter area during prehistoric times. The Romans built roads in the area of the Alps and it was said that the Romans usually built roads along ancient prehistoric trails. There have been a number of archeological findings along the Alps all due to the high traffic of the area during this time. The four major reasons for transit were: hunting, mining, high-altitude grazing and trade. Today the trails are still used by sheep herders.
If the Iceman really was in the area for trading goods, what kind of goods could he have been looking for? In what we know as the Italian Alps today goods such as hides,furs,honey and amber were found. In the section of what we know as the Austrian Alps raw materials such as salt, gold, and iron were found. If the Iceman was just in transit in the Alps on his way south he may have been looking for flint, jade, shells or copper. Materials of which some tools he was carrying were made of.
Due to the intense cold all the objects the iceman had on him were also well preserved. He had numerous interesting objects including an ax, blade, flint knife, marble bead and a small leather pouch with herbs.
Clothing of the Iceman:
The clothing that was found on the Iceman is the first time Neolithic clothing has been found so well preserved. A description of his clothing can give us an idea of how people dressed and the methods and textiles they used to create such clothing.
The clothing of the Iceman consisted of a cap, his upper garment, a pair of leggings, a loincloth, a pair of shoes and a cloak. The cap was made from individually cut pieces of fur sewn together. Attached to the cap were two leather straps probably used as a chin strap.
The upper garment looks like a cloak or cape. The material is the hide of a deer that probably had fur on one side. It is also sewn together by various pieces and was worn with the fur on the inside. It probably came down to his knees and had no sleeves. It is suggested that he wore the hide side in warmer weather as the Eskimos do to this day, thus a prehistoric reversible coat!
The leggings found on the iceman were made of the same material of both the cap and cloak, fur and hide. It was also made of several separate pieces of fur sewn together. It was like a long stocking without the foot section. In fact it covered the thigh as well as the calf and was worn loose to allow for movement. He was not wearing pants, instead he had two separate leggings.
Since he wore no pants, he had a loincloth to protect his genital area. The loincloth is not made of fur as the other garments yet made solely of leather. It consisted of a front flap that went down to his knees. Its shape looked like a scarf tied to his waist.
The shoes were also made of leather strapped together with leather straps. The leather was made of cowhide. For warmth the shoes had no fur, instead they were stuffed with grass inside.
Over his fur garments the Iceman was found wearing a coat made of grass. The coat went down to his knees and was tied around his neck.
Of the largest items found on the Iceman was the bow-stave. The bow-stave was not yet completed thus he was probably working on it while traveling. The wood was made of yew (all prehistoric bows were made of this wood). It would have made a great weapon.
The Iceman also had a prehistoric backpack used to carry loads. It was made of two short boards of larch and a hazel rod. It was shaped like a U. It was tied in the back with string probably made of grass.
Of the more interesting finds was his beltpouch. The actual belt pouch is made of leather and inside were five objects: three flint implements, a bone awl and a piece of tinder. The flint was probably used to cut grass, as a tool to drill holes and carving. The bone awl was probably used to punch holes in leather or fur and perhaps even as a tattooing needle. The iceman was found with many tattoos on his body. The birch was probably used for its tar, which was used as an adhesive.
The final objects found on the Iceman were two birch fungi. It is well known that birch fungus contains antibiotic substances, yet it can also produce hallucinations. Thus, he probably used it as a sort of medicine on his journey.
The final death of the Iceman was at first puzzling. Many believed he froze to death while trying to journey his way through the icy mountains or perhaps by a fall. Yet after careful investigation a team of scientists has determined that Otzi actually died from a wound from an arrow that ripped through his back. The mystery was solved July 2001 almost 10 years after his discovery.
For those who wish to see him today he is frozen in time in the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology.