Otzi the Iceman

After learning about the Franklin Expedition and the explorers’ icy demise I remembered hearing about another frozen discovery from a few years ago. Europe’s oldest natural mummy, or Otzi is the remains of a man found in the ice of the Italian Alps and he was discovered in 1991. It is believed that Otzi lived around 3,300 BCE and it can be estimated that he died between the years of 3239 and 3105 BCE. Although he is so old much has been learned about Otzi. He is estimated to have been around 5’5 and probably weighed about 110 lbs. He was so well preserved that based off of the composition of his tooth enamel scientists could even estimate where he spent his childhood, which was an area in Italy about 50 kms away from where he died. The contents of his stomach showed that his last meal consisted of deer meat, roots, a kind of bread, and fruits.
Scientists were also able to analyze Otzi’s health, and it seems pretty good considering he’s from 3,300 BCE. He had evidence of an intestinal parasite, Lyme’s disease, cavities, lactose intolerance, and broken ribs that he likely obtained around the time of his death. His DNA was also able to be analyzed and it is believed that he was infertile, something that perhaps would have made him an outcast in his society.
Much was also determined about the culture that Otzi lived in by the possessions he still had when he was found in the ice. He had a copper axe blade, a knife made out of flint, and a quiver full of arrows. He also had the remains of baskets with berries and fungi collected in them. His clothes included a cloak, coat, leggings, a loincloth, shoes, and a cap all made from various animal furs and leathers and sewn together with sinew. Otzi also had several tattoos all over his body created from carbon. One theory is that these are more than decorative and may have been part of a treatment for joint pain.
Even though much has been discovered about Otzi there are still several theories about how he died. One is that he was in the mountains and died from exposure in a blizzard. But he also had an arrow wound in his shoulder and other injuries so another more interesting theory is that he died after a struggle with other people. This theory is supported by further evidence that there is blood from multiple people on the clothing and weapons that Otzi had with him. There is also some speculation that he may have been a part of a ritual death, but there is less evidence to support this theory.
I think that is it really amazing that so much can be learned about the remains of someone who died so long ago. The fact that his health, diet, and ways of life can be learned even after being in ice for thousands of years shows just how far science has come. A lot can be learned about a culture from one individual and to make Otzi even more archeologically intriguing, he even has own curse associated with him.

2 thoughts on “Otzi the Iceman

  1. After reading about this, I became very interested in the supposed “Curse of the Iceman”, also known as “Otzi’s Curse”. Based on other mummy’s that are said to have the “Curse of the Pharaohs”, which is a curse that allegedly strikes misfortune, illness, or even death upon anyone who disturbs the final rest of an ancient Egyptian mummy, especially a Pharaoh, someone decided that the iceman was also cursed. After I did a bit of research, I found out that the legend of this curse arises from the suspicious, and sometimes violent, deaths of people surroundings Otzi. Since his discovery, seven people who have worked closely with the research regarding him have died, with some dying accidentally, but violently (car crash, avalanche) and others dying of medical complications. The violent deaths drew more concern with the media, and the curse became more well known.
    However, since Otzi was such a monumental find which is allowing us to gain so much knowledge into the past in many areas, hundreds and hundreds of people have participated in the study surround Otzi. The sheer amounts of people who have actually examined him make the seven deaths a tragic, though ultimately insignificant, number.
    The general consensus is now that the media, and anyone else who would benefit from lots of attention brought of the Iceman continued to push the idea of “the cure of the Iceman” in order to increase sales, or viewer ratings, or public attention, as there is no solid evidence to suggest that coming into contact with Otzi shortens one’s lifespan for any reason.

  2. I think it’s extremely interesting how well freezing temperatures and ice can preserve a body. In 1999 a team of scientists found three children on the top of Mt. Llullaillaco, who had been sacrificed by the Inca more than 500 years earlier. The three children were two girls, aged six and fifteen, and a boy who was seven years old. It is generally accepted that the children were chosen for their beauty and were sacrificed in a ceremony called Capacocha. The kids weren’t sacrificed to appease the gods or anything though, Capacocha is a great honor in which the kids are choces to enter the realm of the gods and live in paradise with them. It was a transition to a better life, where the kids were expected to remain in contact with their community through shamans. The kids who go through Capacocha begin their journey in Cuzco, they then would then have travelled by foot, in a long procession with other children, priests and officials, and arrived at the foot of the Llullaillaco, five hundred miles from Cuzco, weeks later. They were given alcohol and coca leaves to ward off fatigue and pain, and then marched up the mountain. The kids died of exposure and then were placed into tombs by priests with gold and other valuables. Two of the children are extremely well preserved, while the youngest girl has some damage because she was struck by lightning. The mummies are now in the High Mountain Archaeological Museum in Argentina. The oldest girl is on display in a special case, set at -20 Celsius, and has been given the name La Doncella, meaning the Maiden in Spanish. Something intriguing, dozens of DNA samples were taken from the bodies and compared with hundreds of samples from Peruvians. Scientists found a DNA match between La Doncella and a man from a small village at the foot of Mount Ampato, 1,000 miles away from the burial site on Llullaillaco. This means the man is a living descendent of the Inca.

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