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Ötzi the Iceman - Murder on Ice

Updated: May 9

Everyone loves True-Crime. There's nothing more soothing than to cuddle up on your couch with a blanket and watch a documentary about some heinous acts. While that may not be everyone's cup of tea, it is true for a significant portion of the population.

Those of the Abrahamic faiths will be aware of the tale of the first murderer. Roughly 6,000 years ago, a brother turned on another and bashed his head in with a rock. This story, an obvious parable, describes how something as simple as envy can drive the closest of friends to commit evil acts.

Murder has always been part of our social fabric. Humans, and before them the great apes, have been fighting and killing since time immemorial. So it's no wonder that we found evidence of such an act, frozen in time.

This is the story of Ötzi the Iceman.

Hikers Find a Body

Hikers are always stumbling across bodies. We know this because the True-Crime documentaries are quick to remind us. It's so much of a trope that we can't really use it for crime-dramas anymore.

Whatever the argument for reality's terrible writing may be, it keeps happening. In September 1991, a group of Germans were out for a casual stroll in the Tyrolean Alps. Hiking Germans is yet another cliché, quick, someone fire a writer.

The intrepid walkers were enjoying the low oxygen environment and icy hellscape when they stumbled across a human body. After rushing down to report their first body of the hike, the authorities rushed to the scene.

The Iceman Speaks

They thought that the dead man had died recently, and were about to open a criminal case. It's lucky they didn't, as this would turn out to be a cold case they weren't qualified to solve.

Ötzi, named after a nearby valley, was handed over to scientists and historians. He is currently housed in a special cold cell at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology.

Researchers discovered that Ötzi died roughly 5,300 years ago. His death was anything but peaceful. Someone had it out for everyone's favorite Iceman, it seems. So much so, that they planted an arrow firmly in Ötzi's back.

Ötzi died in the perfect place for his body to be preserved through the millennia. The dry, cold air mummified him. He's like a time capsule of crime. We've learned so much from him, that researchers were able to reconstruct not only his tools, but also what he looked like in life.

They concluded that he was somewhere between his twenties and thirties. Ötzi weighed only 50kg (110 pounds) at the time of his death. He was roughly average height for a modern human, 1.6m (5.2 feet) tall.

Ötzi suffered in life. Scientists found evidence that his body was infested with whipworm, and that he suffered from arthritis. Ötzi's body showed signs of several broken ribs and a broken nose, all of which he healed from. They also found blue pigment in his leg and back, which could be evidence of the oldest tattoos, or remnants of some kind of caveman medicine.

Thanks to the way in which Ötzi died, researchers were able to learn a lot about how neolithic humans operated. His clothing and tools being the biggest contributors in this case.

Ötzi's people made their cold-protective gear from a mix of animal skins, and covered it all with a woven grass cape. His shoes were leather stuffed with grass. The Iceman carried a yew bow and 14 arrows in a furry quiver. He was also armed with a copper-bladed axe, and a flint dagger. None of these armaments helped Ötzi in the end.

Murder in the Alps

Researchers were able to put together an idea of Ötzi's final moments. Their first guess was that he simply died of exposure to the autumn cold. This was later discarded in favor of the belief that he was involved in some kind of ritual sacrifice. Believe it or not, there is a lot of evidence that people used to sacrifice their chieftains during Ötzi's time.

Analysis of the Iceman shows evidence of a very violent demise. He suffered several cuts to his hands and arms, and a heavy blow to the head. The thing that ended his life, was an arrow that entered his back, shattered his scapula, and settled near his lung.

Ötzi did not go quietly into the night, though. DNA analysis shows that he killed two other with one arrow - which he was able to retrieve both times. It also seems that Ötzi carried a fallen comrade on his shoulder, before getting shot in the back. His posture, and the lack of an arrow shaft, indicates that his killer attempted to retrieve their arrow.

So it seems that Ötzi's died as a casualty of war. Does that invalidate the concept that he was murdered? Technically, yes, but morally, no.
Reconstruction of Ötzi the Iceman



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