Ötzi is Europe’s oldest known human mummy, a man who died around 3,300 BC at the age of 45. His body was preserved in a glacier in South Tirol, Italy until it was found by two German tourists in 1991. Since then, his well-preserved body has been the subject of almost continuous scientific examination, and new scientific methods have enabled researchers to learn even more about his life and death. In 2018, for instance, an article in the journal ‘Current Biology’ revealed the contents of his last meal (see Ötzi’s last meal).
Scientists have now revealed the results of further research. Preserved in the clothing and gut of the mummified body they found thousands of moss and liverwort fragments. Careful study of these fragments in relation to the surrounding landscape of the Ötztal has shown that Ötzi’s final journey had brought him north from the lower Schnalstal valley in South Tirol, Italy.
How did he live?
Close examination of the body, particularly the bones in the legs, has led one expert to believe that Ötzi’s lifestyle included long walks over hilly terrain, suggesting that Ötzi might have been a high-altitude shepherd. His clothes were made from sheepskin and goat hide and his shoes were waterproof and wide, suggesting that they could have been designed for walking across the snow.
How did he die?
There has been much speculation by archaeologists and other scientists about how Ötzi met his death. Did he die from natural causes such as illness, or through exposure to the cold during a snowstorm? Or, as has also been suggested, was he the victim of a ritual sacrifice like the bog bodies of Tollund Man and the Meisje van Yde? It has even been suggested that his death took place at a lower altitude and his body was afterwards carried to its final resting place high up in the mountains.
These and many other fascinating facts and theories can be found on Ötzi’s Wikipedia page at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%96tzi. No doubt Ötzi’s body still has further secrets to reveal, but in the meantime, he lies on display in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy.
Text Alun Harvey