Geography Otzi The Iceman: What We Know 30 Years After His Discovery

Otzi The Iceman: What We Know 30 Years After His Discovery

Otzi The Iceman: What We Know 30 Years After His Discovery

A reconstruction of Ötzi the Iceman, who lived and died in the European Alps some 5,200 years ago. His naturally mummified remains were chanced on by German hikers on September 19, 1991.

A reconstruction of Ötzi the Iceman, who lived and died in the European Alps some 5,200 years ago. His naturally mummified remains were chanced on by German hikers on September 19, 1991.

Photo by Robert Clark, Nat Geo Portray Sequence

Knowing to be “Europe’s most infamous mummy,” the remains of the person that used to be murdered in the Alps 5,000 years ago continue to mark little print of Neolithic life—and insights into smartly-liked health.

Published September 15, 2021

10 min read

Thirty years ago this month, Europe’s most infamous mummy used to be chanced on lying face-down in the ice, on the fringe of a lake nearly two miles high in the Ötztal Alps bordering Austria and Italy.

Naturally preserved by bigger than 5,000 years of solar, wind, and freezing temperatures, the leathery remains of Ötzi the Iceman rapidly grew to change into a global sensation, the sphere of numerous books and documentaries and even a feature movie reconstructing his life in Neolithic Europe and his violent death.

On the present time, Ötzi is comparatively tended to by researchers on the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy, the save apart his wizened physique is saved in a custom frigid chamber maintained at a constant temperature of –21.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Four or five cases a one year, his remains are sprayed with sterile water to make an chilly, protective exoskeleton that ensures he stays a “moist mummy” (one naturally preserved in a moist in diagram of dry ambiance).

Rush in the assist of the scenes of Ötzi’s 2010 put up-mortem.

In an common one year, about 300,000 guests skedaddle to Bolzano to marvel on the worn Iceman by strategy of a thick glass window that affords a stare into his frigid chamber. Ötzi is equally in depend on by scientists, who jump on the rare quite numerous to scrutinize the extremely effectively-preserved remains of a person that lived prolonged earlier than the upward thrust of Europe’s earliest cities, and even earlier than Egypt’s first pyramid used to be built.

“Ötzi is, in my eyes, the categorical investigated human physique the whole world has ever viewed,” says Oliver Peschel, the Munich-essentially essentially based forensic pathologist to blame of Ötzi’s conservation.

Here’s what three decades of review delight in printed about the life and death of the Iceman—and what the future scrutinize of his unheard of remains also can mark.


Ötzi used to be wiry, short (5’2”), and about 46 years old faculty when he died. He used to be left-handed and wore a U.S. men’s dimension 8 shoe. His eyes—quiet preserved in their sockets—were prolonged regarded as blue, but genomic prognosis has printed otherwise. “We would point to he had brown eyes and shaded brown hair, and he had a conventional Mediterranean pores and skin tone,” says Albert Zink, head of the EURAC Institute of Mummy Analysis in Bolzano, which has completed considerable of the core review on Ötzi. 

Learn how researchers reconstructed Ötzi’s frantic, final mountain climb.

The Iceman had form O blood, used to be lactose intolerant, and had a rare genetic anomaly that refrained from his 12th pair of ribs from forming. He suffered from cavities, intestinal parasites, Lyme disease, and sore knees, hips, shoulders, and assist. His 61 tattoos plan onto the locations the save apart his bones and joints indicate build on and streak (as effectively as onto smartly-liked acupuncture facets). Ötzi had damaged plenty of ribs and his nose for the length of his lifetime, and horizontal grooves on his fingernails inform had repeated bouts of bodily stress—seemingly stemming from malnutrition—in the few months earlier than his death. He used to be genetically predisposed to arteriosclerosis, and a CT scan confirms that his is the oldest identified case of coronary heart disease on the earth. 

In accordance with carbon dating, Ötzi lived roughly 5,200 years ago (3350–3110 B.C.)


In accordance along with his DNA signature, Ötzi used to be segment of the migration of Neolithic farmers that got right here by strategy of Anatolia (smartly-liked Turkey) 8,000 to 6,000 years ago, replacing Europe’s Paleolithic hunters and gatherers. His maternal genetic heritage now not exists in smartly-liked populations, but his paternal line lives on in groups came upon on Mediterranean islands, especially Sardinia.


Ötzi used to be came upon wearing simplest a single shoe, but plenty of his property were due to this truth recovered at some stage in the distance the save apart he used to be came upon. His leggings and coats—one lighter, one heavier—were pieced together from the hides of local sheep and goats. His shoes were stuffed with wild grass and laced with auroch leather-essentially essentially based. His fur hat used to be from a brown undergo.   

Observe how DNA tells the memoir of what Ötzi wore.


The Iceman trekked by strategy of the Ötztal Alps with a wood-physique backpack and a deerskin quiver with 20 arrow shafts, simplest two of which had arrowheads. His flint dagger used to be sharpened with a tool normal from lime tree wood and a hearth-hardened antler tip. A birch bark container, equal to those quiet made in the pronounce on the present time, held smoldering charcoal wrapped in contemporary maple leaves that could well well’ve allowed him to rapidly make a hearth.

One amongst the largest objects is Ötzi’s clear copper axe. Secured to a yew address with cow leather-essentially essentially based and birch tar, the blade used to be solid from a mildew and is 99.7 percent pure copper. It used to be an terribly effectively off item for the time, and its discovery pushed assist the beginning of the European Copper Age by a thousand years.


Within the hours earlier than his death, Ötzi had a hearty meal of einkorn wheat, purple deer, and ibex. It took researchers 18 years to call his belly—by strategy of a 2009 CT scan—as a result of organ had shifted under his ribs to the save apart his decrease lungs are positioned.

Learn more about how researchers sure Ötzi’s closing meal. 


A reduce between the thumb and first finger of his honest real hand printed that Ötzi had been stabbed about a days earlier than he died. It used to be an energetic defensive injure, that system he seemingly tried to grab the blade. That injure used to be quiet therapeutic when he used to be attacked again with an arrow that hit an artery in his assist left shoulder. He also can delight in had time to sit down and presumably try to tug the arrow out, but it completely’s not going he will delight in reached it earlier than he bled to death inner minutes.

Learn how X-ray scans mark Ötzi’s clarification for death.

The Iceman additionally had colossal brain hemorrhaging, but experts disagree about its trigger. Did somebody discontinuance him off with a blow to the pinnacle? Did he drop and hit his head on a rock? Peschel says he doesn’t scrutinize real proof for either of those eventualities.


In accordance with prognosis of pollen and the maple leaves he carried, Ötzi died in early summer. One theory posits that Observe how the Ötzi’s gut holds clues to folk’ spread into Europe.

The variety of our gut flowers appears linked to our health, so researchers are alive to to examine the makeup of Ötzi’s. One early rep, segment of an ongoing scrutinize by the College of Trento involving Ötzi and 6,500 smartly-liked folk, reveals that the Iceman had three of the four strains of the bacterium Prevotella copri. Indigenous folk at some stage in the sphere delight in a ramification of strains of the bacterium in their gut, but the 30 percent of smartly-liked Westerners with P. copri delight in correct one, which tends to grab over, lowering diversity. 

One more discovery is that Ötzi’s gut contained Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium came upon on the present time in half of the sphere’s inhabitants, with excessive or deadly health penalties for about 10 percent of us. The dominant rigidity of H. pylori in Europe on the present time is a hybrid of Asian and African strains. Ötzi’s rigidity is nearly purely Asian, which ability that the African rigidity arrived in Europe after his death. This has implications for the controversy over whether or not H. pylori is a pure member of our gut flowers or desires to be treated with an antibiotic as quickly because it’s identified.  

One more microbiome scrutinize of his gut came upon the pathogenic ancestor rigidity of Clostridium perfringens, on the present time a overall clarification for food poisoning.


Town of Bolzano plans to assemble a recent archaeology museum in the following few years to residence each Ötzi and a richer sequence of Tyrolean artifacts. They additionally hope to enhance the energy effectivity of the 22-one year-old faculty frigid chamber gadget that supports his remains. (A 2nd backup chamber is additionally on standby in case the predominant one fails.)


To greater realize the pure processes which delight in preserved Ötzi over five millennia—particularly publicity to the parts and the actions of microbes—researchers on the Institute of Mummy Analysis are now examining the naturally preserved remains of a chamois, a form of goat-antelope, chanced on in summer 2020 in the identical pronounce as Ötzi. Even though simplest about a hundred years old faculty, its pronounce of preservation is equal to the Iceman’s, and scientists are varying the humidity and temperature the animal’s remains are stored at to greater realize how those factors impact preservation. They’re additionally studying its microbial neighborhood, each in and out. “We know there are bacteria and fungi that can continue to exist the frigid temperatures, so presumably if you happen to alternate one thing, they’ll commence to develop again,” Zink says.


Technological advances shall be key to unlocking more of Ötzi’s secrets and tactics—and are seemingly. His 5,000-one year-old faculty genome used to be decoded in 2012, correct as subsequent-know-how sequencing used to be becoming more overall and inexpensive. However even then, Zink says he never would delight in expected that sooner or later researchers could well well additionally reconstruct the Iceman’s microbiome. “These programs developed so rapidly, and now we discover so considerable more recordsdata,” he marvels.

Future review could well well point of interest on the performance of Özti’s physique, at the side of proteins, lipids, and enzymes came upon in his tissues which will mark knowledge about his immune gadget. For now, however, protein prognosis of worn samples remains a truly advanced activity.

Within the period in-between, Ötzi’s caretakers delight in to strike a cautious steadiness between making the mummy readily accessible for review and ensuring that review isn’t too invasive or frequent. The museum receives about 10 to 15 requests to scrutinize Ötzi yearly. A committee of experts from varied universities and the museum evaluates every build a matter to. About once a one year they take grasp of surface samples for microbiology investigations. They simplest normally ever defrost him. The closing time used to be in 2019.

“We also can’t delight in any conception what scientific programs scientists in 2050 will delight in,” says Peschel. “It makes moderately a lot of sense to shield Ötzi in the categorical condition to make review imaginable in 20, 30 years.”

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