Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.


leave a comment »


(Image credit: Thilo Parg / Wikimedia Commons, License: CC BY-SA 3.0)

A few days ago on Facebook I posted about the anniversary of the discovery of Ötzi in the Ötztal Alps. Those are the Alps between Austria and Italy. (Yes, that’s how he got his name.) Pictured above in all his reconstructed glory. He was discovered on 19 september, 1991. He is Europe’s oldest known natural mummy, over 5,000 years old. And a number of my Facebook readers had never heard of Ötzi, much to my amazement. Even better they thought his story was fascinating. And I thought, what a great topic for a blog!

So yes, nice couple out for a stroll in the Alps in 1991. They stumble across a body half frozen in the ice. They, and pretty much everyone else, figured it was some recent victim (as in years or decades old) of the dangers of travelling in the Alps. Such discoveries happen all the time. Fairly quickly it was realized Ötzi was older, much older than the usual crop of dead bodies found in the Alps. Thousands of years older in fact. I have followed Ötzi’s story from the beginning. What follows is partly from memory, partly from recent internet research. Enjoy.

So, he died about 5,250 years ago. At first it was thought some mishap had befallen him, or maybe just cold and exposure. Eventually though, it was determined to be murder most foul. OK, maybe a hunting accident, who knows. He had been struck in the back with an arrow, and bled out fairly quickly. Probably was murder though, his body had some other wounds indicating he had been in a fight or fights before his death. One study indicated that the blood of four different individuals was found on his weapons. No one was ever able to replicate the study though, so maybe not. The shot that killed Ötzi was a great shot, fired from considerably below him. Might explain why his killers didn’t get to his body and take his stuff.

And he had some great stuff, he was fully kitted out. Bow, arrows, knife, clothing, first aid kit, and niftiest of all, a copper axe. Yes, humans had started smelting and casting copper. Every copper axehead ever found was polished to a mirrored sheen, a labor intensive undertaking in the era before emery cloth. Thus the axe likely marked Ötzi as a high status or wealthy individual. Or a thief I suppose, “Shoot him, he’s got my axe!” Anyhow, a tremendous amount was learned from his possessions. One thing that stuck out for me in particular, there were over a dozen items made from wood. And every single item was made out of the exact type of wood best suited for the item in question. The same goes for the items made from animal hide. These people were plenty smart.

In some ways his stuff was the most important thing about him. This wasn’t some guy buried naked in a bog, or a body in a grave. This was a guy with all his possessions with him. In fact archeologists were so interested in that aspect that they went up and excavated everything around where Ötzi was found down to bedrock. And counted every seed, whatever. They got most of his hair and two of his fingernails doing this. Anyhow, here’s an article listing all his stuff with pictures.

Ötzi was about 45 at the time of his death. So he’d been around. Five foot three inches tall. Wiry, in good shape. Suffering from parasites and recurring bouts of a serious illness. Lots of tattoos, over fifty. All soot tattoos, just black lines. He is in fact the oldest known tattooed person. They may have been for medical pain relief or acupuncture type healing, as most of them were found on places like joints or his spine. His previous few meals were still in him, ibex, red deer, and chamois meat. Bread, roots, veges. His DNA shows he was lactose intolerant, so lactose tolerance was still not universal in Europe. They were also able to tell from his tooth enamel that he grew up about 50km south of where he was found, but later in life he moved to the region where he died. His bones also showed he spent a lot of time climbing up and down steep slopes, unusual for any era. So he might have been a mountain shepherd.

Whoever he was, Europe was a very different place then. There certainly were little villages, but no real towns as we would know them. It would have been mostly wilderness, though some agriculture had started.  There were dogs, but no cats yet where he lived. The bread Ötzi ate was apparently from cultivated grains. There had been standing stones and such in Europe, but Stonehenge was still centuries away.. Ötzi had likely never seen anything bigger than a wooden hut or hall. He might have heard tell though. The world’s very first cities were springing up in the Middle East, though the first pyramids were still centuries away.

Ötzi’s DNA shows he was most closely related to people who now live in Corsica and Sardinia. And interestingly enough scientists found 18 people currently living in the Alps who were descended from Ötzi, or a close male relative. His mother’s DNA didn’t live on, but his father’s did. Kind of wild knowing some of the people still living in the region are his direct descendants. Immortality in several ways. His DNA lives on, and countless millions of people know of him. It would have been very difficult to explain to him today’s world.

And no matter what we learn, we can only guess at who Ötzi was. His dreams, memories, fantasies, loves and all that made him human died with him on that cold mountain. We can only wonder. RIP Ötzi, long gone but not forgotten.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Otzi kitted out. Credit: The author Thilo Parg has licensed this file under license CC-BY-SA-3.0 to Wikimedia Commons. This means that a free, even commercial use is possible if the following conditions are met:

Online media:

Clearly legible indication of the author next to the picture: “Thilo Parg / Wikimedia Commons”

Readable license name next to the image: “License: CC BY-SA 3.0”)


Written by unitedcats

September 27, 2019 at 4:33 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: