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Ötzi the Iceman’s Frantic Final Climb

Verwandtenbesuch in Bozen - 160616
Picture Credit: “Verwandtenbesuch in Bozen – 160616” by ‘Besenbinder’ is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Ötzi’s Final Journey

Let me introduce you to Ötzi, also called the Iceman. He is the natural mummy of a man who lived some 5300 years ago – before the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge were built. He was discovered in September 1991 in the Ötztal Alps (hence the nickname “Ötzi”) on the border between Austria and Italy.

Ötzi is believed to have died in 3255 BC at the age of 45. The discovery of an arrowhead embedded in his left shoulder and various other wounds suggest he was murdered. The arrowhead hit a main artery – so he probably bled to death within minutes. The nature of his life and the circumstances of his death are the subjects of much investigation and speculation.

Ötzi is Europe’s oldest-known natural human mummy, offering an unprecedented view of Chalcolithic, the Copper Age[1]. His body and belongings are displayed in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, South Tyrol, Italy.

Researchers have meticulously traced Ötzi’s movements before his murder. Many questions remain unanswered: Why was he on the mountain? Was he running away – being chased? If so, why?

Researchers have concluded that Ötzi would have stood at around 5 feet 2 or 3 inches tall and weighed about 110 pounds (under eight stone). You might say he was small and wiry.

Ötzi 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.

Ötzi was found on a mountain ridge at the border between Austria and Italy. After the First World War, Austria had to give the southern part of Tyrol to Italy. The location is now known as Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol. Ötzi’s home is now at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano in the Southern Tyrol (Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol).[2]

Ötzi was middle-aged, had brown eyes and blood type ‘O’. Ten years after Ötzi’s body was found, X-rays and a CT scan revealed that Ötzi had a stone arrowhead lodged in his left shoulder and a matching small tear on his coat. Further research found that the arrow’s shaft had been removed before death (perhaps by Ötzi), and closer examination of the body found bruises and cuts to his hands, wrists and chest. Cerebral trauma suggested a blow to the head. That, together with the arrowhead, was the cause of his death.[3]

Examination of the body
Ötzi’s frozen, mummified body was found by two German tourists from Nuremberg. Ötzi has been examined thoroughly, x-rays conducted, tissues dated, and intestinal contents reviewed in minute detail. His remains had been covered in ice so soon after his death that only minimal deterioration of the body had taken place, as a result of which researchers were able to piece together facts about Ötzi’s life. Pollen and dust on Ötzi’s body combined with analysis of tooth enamel composition told researchers that Ötzi had spent most of his childhood in the village of Feldthurns. Later in his adult life, Ötzi had moved north into the valleys and away from the Feldthurns area. Additionally, it is believed from the analysis of Ötzi’s blackened lung tissue that he had spent considerable time inhaling campfire smoke.

Researchers have determined what Ötzi ate shortly before his death.[4] Evidence of his last two meals showed:

  • The first meal consisted of meat from a goat/antelope creature called a chamois.
  • The second meal was made up of herb bread and red deer meat.
  • In addition to these mainstays, each meal was accompanied by fruits and roots plus grains, specifically einkorn wheat bran.

The food recovered from Ötzi’s stomach could not only tell researchers what Ötzi fed on before he died but also reveal where he fed. Pollen recovered in the chamois remnants showed that Ötzi had eaten his meal in a conifer forest at mid-altitude. Additional pollen indicated that crops grown native in this area included legumes and wheat. The condition of pollen recovered from Ötzi’s remains suggests that his death took place in the springtime.[5] From examining the proportions of Ötzi’s tibia, femur and pelvis, the researchers believe that Ötzi’s lifestyle included long walks over hilly terrain. This degree of mobility is uncharacteristic of other Copper Age Europeans and may indicate that Ötzi was a high-altitude shepherd[6].

A Mossy Mystery[7]
A retired professor of archaeobotany at the University of Glasgow and the lead author of the research, James Dickson, has been studying Ötzi since 1994. That was when he received samples of organic remains excavated from where the mummy was found. Dickson says he was immediately intrigued when he saw flat neckera (Neckera complanata), a moss species that historically has been used for caulking[8] boats and log cabins. Flat neckera was found in relatively large quantities at the site, often stuck to Ötzi’s clothing. Although its purpose is still unclear, the moss may have been part of Ötzi’s toolkit. Was it used for insulation? Or perhaps an early version of toilet paper? In any case, the species only grows at lower altitudes; its presence helped researchers start mapping Ötzi’s final journey.

Ötzi’s Health[9]
It seems that Ötzi was not in the best of health. He had whipworm (Trichuris trichiura), an intestinal parasite. During CT scans, it was observed that three or four of his right ribs had been cracked, perhaps because he had been lying face down after death or where the ice had crushed his body, Ötzi also suffered from gallstones and arthritis. One of his fingernails (of the two found) shows three Beau’s 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. 

It was also found that his epidermis, the outer skin layer, was missing, a natural process from his mummification in ice. Ötzi’s teeth showed considerable internal deterioration from cavities – this may be due to his grain-heavy, high carbohydrate diet. DNA analysis in February 2012 revealed that Ötzi was lactose intolerant, supporting the theory that this dietary problem was still common at that time, despite the increasing spread of agriculture and dairying.

According to The Lancet website, the likelihood is that Ötzi used natural laxatives and antibiotics[10]. The tattoos covering Ötzi’s body were produced by making multiple parallel or intersecting linear incisions with a scalpel, filling the incisions with a mixture of herbs, and lighting the herbs, which also had the effect of cauterising the incisions. The discovery of the intestinal parasite suggests that Ötzi was aware of his gastric problems and fought them with measured doses of Piptoporus betulinus. The toxic oils in the fungus were probably the only remedy available before the introduction of the considerably more toxic chenopod oil from the Americas. The efficacy of chenopod oil[11] was increased by adding a strong laxative that caused the expulsion of the dead and dying worms and their eggs.

Clothes and Shoes[12]
Ötzi wore a cloak made of woven grass and a coat, a belt, a pair of leggings, a loincloth and shoes, all made of leather of different skins. 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 the top panels, and a netting made of tree bark. Soft grass went around the foot and in the shoe and functioned like modern 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 several items: a scraper, drill, flint flake, bone awl and a dried fungus.

Tools and equipment
Other items found with Ötzi were a copper axe with a yew handle, a chert-bladed knife with an ash handle and a quiver of 14 arrows with viburnum and dogwood shafts. Two of the arrows were broken, tipped with flint and had fletching (stabilising fins), while the other 12 were unfinished and untipped. There was also an unfinished yew longbow that was 72 inches long. The 3.7-inch-long axe head is made of almost pure copper, produced by a combination of casting, cold forging, polishing, and sharpening.[13]

Surprising Facts
Ötzi had more than 50 tattoos[14] on his body (made by cutting the skin and rubbing charcoal in the wound). He was left-handed. His flint dagger was sharpened with a tool fashioned from lime tree wood and a fire-hardened antler tip. Ötzi’s copper axe was secured to a yew handle with cow leather and birch tar – the blade was cast from a mould and is 99.7 per cent, pure copper.[15] Ötzi’s body was missing some bones—the smallest of ribs on either side. This lack of ribs is not unheard of, but it only affects about 5 per cent of the population. He also had no molars.[16]

A CT scan on Ötzi’s body in 2005 discovered that the arrowhead had severed one of his arteries and most likely caused his death. There was also a large wound on his hand – another indicator that he had been in close combat with a killer or killers shortly before his death. The blood of four people was found on Ötzi’s clothes and weapons, indicates that Ötzi was seriously outnumbered in his fight to survive, yet his assailants left his valuable copper axe behind when they left.[17]  But something else more remarkable has been discovered – gene researchers looking for unusual markers on Ötzi’s sex chromosome have reported they have uncovered at least 19 genetic relatives of Ötzi in Austria’s Tyrol region.[18]

Iceman, the Film
In 2017, German filmmaker Felix Randau turned Ötzi’s struggle for survival into a feature film. The film, a collaboration between Germany, Italy and Austria, was shot in the rugged mountains of Bavaria, South Tyrol and Carinthia. The adventure-drama film was written and directed by Felix Randau and featured almost no dialogue, with a minimal amount in untranslated Rhaetian – a language of the pre-Roman and Roman era in the eastern Alps for which no translation is given in the film. The language is extinct but believed to have been in use by Ötzi.

The Ötzi Museum
The permanent exhibition at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology is dedicated entirely to Ötzi, the Iceman. It is housed on three floors of the Museum and displays everything of interest about the world’s most famous glacier mummy.[19] Today, Ötzi is carefully tended to by researchers at the Museum, where his shrivelled body is kept in a custom-made cold chamber maintained at a constant temperature of minus 21.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Four or five times a year, his remains are sprayed with sterile water to create an icy, protective exoskeleton that ensures he stays a “wet mummy” (one naturally preserved in a wet rather than dry environment). A backup chamber is on standby in case the primary one fails.[20]

Update, November 2022[21]
A new research proposal questions the time and place of Ötzi’s death. Further analysis points towards the time of year being spring rather than autumn and that the body was moved by melting ice from higher up the mountain.

The authors of a new study[22] published in the journal Holocene say that the conventional story of what happened to Ötzi after his death is in error:

  • He probably did not die in the gully where he was found but was carried there after his death by the strong summertime flow of melting ice water.
  • The body had been buffeted about by the forces of nature for quite some time. The thawing and refreezing of glacial ice in the Tyrolean Alps moved and preserved him, ultimately carrying him to a spot on the landscape where his discovery became possible.

Timeline Description automatically generated with medium confidence
Picture Credit: Reconstructions of Ötzi‘s last days, based on his last itinerary and meals, the state of his wounds, the causes of his death and the damaged and insufficient equipment, following multiple studies
Attribution: Wierer, U., Arrighi, S., Bertola, S., Kaufmann, G., Baumgarten, B., Pedrotti, A., Pernter, P. and Pelegrin, J., CC BY-SA 4.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons 
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This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Sourced/Excerpted from and for Further Reading

Reconstruction of the copper axe of Ötzi the Iceman.

Reconstruction made by ArchäoTechnik Wulf Hein, Dorn-Assenheim, Germany. Author: Bullenwächter.

Usage Terms: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0. License: CC BY 3.0.

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End Notes and Explanations
  1. Explanation: The Copper Age was the transitional period between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age – taken to begin around the mid-5th millennium BC and ends with the beginning of the Bronze Age proper, in the late 4th to 3rd millennium BC, depending on the region.

  2. Source: from Ötzi the Iceman Facts for KidsKiddle Encyclopedia.The content from Kiddle encyclopedia articles (including the article images and facts) can be freely used under an Attribution-ShareAlike license, unless stated otherwise.

  3. Ibid

  4. See also, detailed analysis at

  5. Source:    
  6. Source: Christopher Ruff; Holt, BM; Sládek, V; Berner, M; Murphy Jr, WA; Zur Nedden, D; Seidler, H; Recheis, W (July 2006), “Body size, body proportions, and mobility in the Tyrolean “Iceman””, Journal of Human Evolution, 51 (1): 91–101, doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2006.02.001, PMID 16549104

  7. Source: National Geographic and

  8. Explanation: Caulking is the sealing of joints or seams against leakage.

  9. Source:

  10. At:

  11. Explanation: Chenopodium oil appears to work by paralyzing and killing worms in the intestine.

  12. Source:

  13. Source:

  14. Many sources say the number of tattoos was 61.

  15. Source:

  16. Source:

  17. Source:

  18. Source: National Geographic,

  19. See:

  20. Source: National Geographic, at

  21. Source:

  22. See Abstract at:

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