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It has been more than 25 years since Ötzi, the Iceman, was freed from the eternal ice of the Ötztal Alps’ main ridge. Thanks to the frosty temperatures the glacier mummy has been perfectly preserved. Over the years Ötzi has become one of the most researched sensations of the Neolithic Period, highly in demand with archaeologists, medical experts and criminologists. The most outstanding research methods give a detailed insight into life and death of the Iceman. A true Alpine crime novel, to be continued.

Laboratory tests on Ötzi

Medical experts put Ötzi through his paces with the latest research methods. ©Südtiroler Archäologiemuseum/ Eurac / Samadelli / Staschitz

Autopsy of a Stone Age Man

He was old. He was ill. These are the very first proven facts about the Iceman. Not so amazing, right? Archaeology expert Walter Leitner can tell us much more exciting details about life and death of Ötzi in the Neolithic Age some 5000 years ago.

“Ötzi was about 48 years old, that’s older than the average age of his contemporaries,” he explains: “But Ötzi was not very healthy as medics diagnosed a quite many of diseases by using the latest examination methods. The Iceman suffered from caries, paradontosis and borreliosis, gastritis and helicobacter bacteria in the digestive tract.“

Ötzi 3D

He looks deceptively real: a reconstruction of the Stone Age Man and his clothes. ©Südtiroler Archäologiemuseum / Ochsenreiter

Tattoos fight gall stones and rheumatism

Decorative skin art? Shamanic symbols? About 60 or more tattoos spread over Ötzi’s body gave a riddle to the experts. Now they have solved it – also thanks to the latest tattoo found in the course of a screening with light sources of different wave lengths.

“The symbol consists of four small lines on the rib, marking the biliary meridian,” Walter Leitner states. “And in fact, Ötzi had three gall stones. Therefore it is proven that Ötzi’s tattoos should ease his aches. He also suffered from rheumatism and articular trouble – other tattoos can be found on the exact therapeutic spots.” Leitner’s conclusion: “We can start from the premise that people in the late Neolithic Age knew how to use medical knowledge and didn’t just invoke the spirits.”

Walter Leitner

Innsbruck’s undisputed Ötzi expert: Walter Leitner

An inquiring mind with thirst for action

Archaeologist Walter Leitner, professor at the Innsbruck University, has participated in all types of scientific research during the last 25 years. As an academic consultant he has developed, supervised and taken care of the Ötzi Village Outdoor Park and its changing exhibitions right from start.

Also the 2016 special exhibition on the 25th Anniversary of the Ötzi Village was created under his guidance – it is still open to the public this year. What’s more, Walter Leitner is as well an active member of the International Ötzi Research Committee.

Death at the Hands of a Murderer

Memorial pyramid

Despite of all his complaints, Ötzi did not die of natural causes or even of old age. For more than 10 years the research experts puzzled over the cause of his sudden death in the eternal ice. Finally, an x-ray examination showed that the Iceman died of an arrow shot in his back. Forensic experts and criminologists racked their brains to find out what happened at the crime scene near Tisenjoch saddleback? Modern examination methods make it possible to give an insight into the very last moments of Ötzi: he must have felt safe and quiet, he spread out all his belongings and started eating his last meal. “His stomach was filled to the brim with grain mash, muscle fibers of red deer and ibex, moss, fern and leaves,” Walter Leitner confirms. Criminologists found out that Ötzi was ambushed by the “arrow murderer” from a huge distance. The injury was lethal – also from today’s point of view.

What was the motive for murder?

In addition to the crime’s circumstances also the time of death can be defined more or less exactly. Due to the contents of the stomach, analyzed by expert scientists, Ötzi died on a spring or summer day about 3000 years BC. Compared to our eating behavior, our ancestors ate only fresh and seasonal food. Why the Iceman had to lose his life is pure speculation: An act of jealousy? A struggle for power? Ran act of revenge?


Who killed Ötzi?

But many details are still uncertain: Ötzi had already a severe injury on his hand, probably a violent fight some days before he died. Isn’t it astonishing which ice cold traces real experts still can identify when it comes to a murder case!

But who was the “arrow murder”? For sure it wasn’t a robber – is the opinion of investigators and profilers: otherwise he would have walked off with Ötzi’s deluxe clothes and his precious hatchet. Maybe a hired killer who earned a nice bid of money for doing it. What a coincidence that Ötzi’s mortal remains, found at the main Alpine ridge of Ötztal, are very well preserved so that research work can be continued for a long time. Although there is not the slightest hope of finding the Iceman’s murderer, Ötzi’s finding provided us with sensational knowledge about long past times.

Studies on Ötzi

Ötzi remains the most spectacular research project within the Alpine Region

Isolde v. Mersi

Guest author: Isolde v. Mersi

Isolde von Mersi comes from South Tyrol's Pustertal valley and lives in Vienna now. As a popular reporter and book writer for Austrian and German magazines and publishing houses, she explores a huge variety of cultural, culinary and naturalistic treasures of the Alpine countries and its people.

She has been feeling at home in Ötztal for many years already as she contributes to the ÖTZTAL MAGAZINE on a regular basis. And she has found many friends in the valley.