Ice Man tells story 5,000 years later

Neil Snarr - Contributing columnist

In September of 1991 two German tourists at an elevation of 10,530 feet in the Otztal Alps on the border between Austria and Italy found what is called a “natural mummy” — a man who lived between 3400 and 3100 BC.

When the tourists first saw “Otzi” (named after the mountains) they thought he was a recently deceased mountaineer, but it was later determined that it was the frozen body of this ancient man who was the victim of a murder.

Analysis of the body determined that Otzi was 5 feet, 3 inches tall, weighed about 110 pounds and was approximately 45 years of age. “Analysis of pollen, dust grains and the isotopic composition of his tooth enamel indicates that he spent his childhood near the present village of Feldthurns, north of Bolzano, but later went to live in valleys about 500 kilometers further north.”

Modern scientific methods make precise analysis of his environment, diet and general living conditions possible.

“Analysis of the contents (of his stomach) revealed the partly digested remains of ibex meat, confirmed by DNA analysis, suggesting he had a meal less than two hours before his death … It is believed that Otzi most likely had a few slices of a dried, fatty meat, which came from wild goat in South Tyrol, Italy. Analysis of Otzi’s intestinal contents showed two meals, one of chamois meat, the other of red deer and herb bread; both were eaten with roots and fruits.”

The information realized from the scientific analyses of this natural mummy seems to be endless. Following, I will quote a variety of diverse finding from further scientific analysis, but I might add that there are 88 references in the article I am using and the number will increase for years. These studies constitute classic examples of the scientific method at work.

Hair analysis: High levels of copper and arsenic were found in his hair. That, along with his nearly pure copper axe blade, led scientists to speculate that he was involved in copper smelting.

Health: Otzi was lactose intolerant and had hookworm, an intestinal parasite.

Tattoos: His body was covered with 61 tattoos which were grouped in specific locations and repeated over time. “It has been speculated that these tattoos may have been related to pain relief treatment similar to acupressure or acupuncture. If so, this is at least 2,000 years before their previously known earliest use in China.”

Clothes: “Otzi 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 … 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 panel, and a netting made of tree bark.”

The complexity of the shoes led one scientist to speculate that it may be that at that time there was a cobbler making shoes for other people. If so, this would be a very early case of occupational specialization.

Equipment: The Iceman had in his possession “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 … In addition, among Otzi’s possessions were berries, two birch bark baskets, and two species of polypore mushrooms with leather strings through them.”

This list of findings and scientific observations and speculations could seemingly go on forever. My primary purpose in reporting on this discovery is to give readers a taste of the use and importance of scientific study.

The findings are cumulative and make comparisons and conclusions over time possible.

Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus at Wilmington College.

Neil Snarr

Contributing columnist