What Killed Ötzi the Iceman?

Laura Heggs | February 19th, 2017

One day in September of 1991, a couple of German tourists hiking in the Alps almost literally stumbled upon something amazing – the remains of what turned out to be Europe’s oldest mummy. The figure’s lower body was partially frozen in ice, but when archaeologists were able to extract it a few days later, they estimated it to be about 4,000 years old, from the Chalcolithic Period, also known as the Copper Age.

From microscopic examinations and x-rays, researchers have determined that Ötzi the Iceman (so named because he was found in the Ötztal Alps on the Austrian-Italian border and, of course, frozen in ice) was a man about 30-45 years old, approximately 5’ 3” tall, and weighing about 110 pounds.

Not only is Ötzi the oldest mummy ever discovered in Europe, but a few other things also make him remarkable: his blood cells were still intact, even thousands of years later, making them the oldest blood cells ever found. And genetic research determined that he has 19 living relatives. Researchers were even able to analyze the grains of pollen and dust on his clothing to pinpoint almost the exact location where he spent most of his life, and they determined that he had 57 primitive tattoos, which were probably associated with acupuncture treatments. Talk about interesting!

At first, archaeologists thought that maybe Ötzi had died from exposure in a snowstorm, or that he was the victim of some sort of ritual sacrifice. But recently, chief inspector Alexander Horn of Munich, Germany was tasked with solving the mystery. Using the items found at the scene, like Ötzi’s hunting gear, Horn determined that the iceman was actually resting at his time of death. Since previous research had shown that Ötzi had just finished a meal when he died, it made sense – he was ambushed by one of his enemies.

Ötzi also had wounds on his hands from a few days before his death, probably the result of some type of altercation from which he seems to have emerged victorious. That could explain the vindictiveness of whoever killed him, and the surprise attack. Horn says that the arrow wound that ultimately killed Ötzi looks to be made by an arrow flying a long distance.

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