Out from the Ice
Dale H. Easley
Department of Natural and Applied Sciences
University of Dubuque
In the summer of 1999, I taught geology in Innsbruck with the UNO program.
Shortly before I arrived, one of Innsbruck's most celebrated guests departed for
Italy. Oetzi had arrived naked in 1991. 1991 had a particularly hot summer, and
Oetzi's was the 7th body to melt out of the ice of Alpine glaciers. Hikers
discovered his body and reported it. A policeman was dispatched to inspect it.
His initial response was to treat the body like just another hiker that had to
be jack-hammered out of the ice. However, he couldn't get the job done, so the
body lay for another four days while other people came and collected some of his
clothing and tools. Finally, an Austrian doctor led a team that got Oetzi free
of the ice. Unfortunately, the five days spent getting Oetzi out did more
damage to him than the 5,300 years he lay frozen.
Yes, 5,300 years. Oetzi is the oldest mummified human ever found, almost 2,000
years older than King Tut. Oetzi was about 5 feet 2 inches tall, weighed about
110 lbs, and was probably between 40 and 53 years old. As he was being
extracted from the ice, under him was found a copper axe, dating him to the
Copper Age. He wore animal skins, shoes lined on the inside with grass, and a
grass cape. He carried an unfinished yew bow, arrows in a quiver, a flint knife,
a leather pouch, and a wooden frame possible used as a backpack. His internal
organs were preserved. He seemed to have been fairly fit despite arthritis in
the neck, lower back, and one hip, plus broken ribs, calcium deposits indicating
heart disease, and a fractured jaw. He was carrying a bit of food---a sloeberry,
some mushrooms, and a few gnawed ibex bones. Recent isotopic work indicates
that he was a vegetarian, at least for part of the time leading up to his death.
Most bodies coming out of glaciers are fairly ground up and decayed. That Oetzi
was so well preserved was a fluke. Apparently Oetzi was walking across the Alps
near what is now the Austrian-Italian border. He grew tired or sick or took
refuge from a storm. Whatever the case, he lay down in a natural rocky crevice,
never to rise again1. If Oetzi
had been exposed for long, animals would have destroyed his carcasse. However,
snow quickly buried him, freezing his body for centuries to come. As the Alpine
glacier formed on top of him and began its grinding flow downhill, the shallow
depression in which his body lay protected him.
What was Oetzi doing up in Alps? Perhaps he was hunting ibex or herding sheep.
Or maybe he was fleeing danger. The broken bones, especially his jaw, may
indicate a violent conflict. The unfinished yew bow was cut from trees that
grew lower down the mountain. Grains of wheat and corn in his belongings
indicate that he had been in an agricultural area. The ripe sloeberry indicates
the time of year was let summer or autumn. Konrad Spindler of the University of
Innsbruck has guessed that Oetzi was a herder who came down from the mountains
and got caught up in some conflict such as a raid from a neighboring valley. He
escaped back up the mountains, only to die from exhaustion and the early
snowstorm. Perhaps. Oetzi's past remains a mystery.
When Oetzi was discovered, some speculated that he was a hoax, a mummy from
somewhere else placed into the ice to mislead scientists. However, DNA analysis
of Oetzi shows that he was of European descent. Though the Austrians originally
recovered and claimed his body, a careful survey of the border showed that he
was slightly on the Italian side. When Oetzi left Innsbruck in January, 1999,
it was for Bolzano, Italy. There he is on display in a climate-controlled case
in a darkened room in his own museum.
1 Recent evidence by
researchers in Balzano, Italy, indicates that the Iceman died from an arrow shot
to the shoulder.
For more information, go to the UNO library web
Use Infotrac (Expanded Academic ASAP) and search for Iceman.
File translated from TEX by T
TH, version 2.72.
On 26 Jul 2000, 11:01.