Ötzi the Iceman @ Mummy Tombs

Scientific Studies: What Has Been Discovered About the Iceman

Here are some findings from recent scientific studies conducted on the Iceman: 

Books about Ötzi


The latest DVD from PBS's NOVA:

Smithsonian's "Mummies Alive"

Ötzi's May Have Had a Quick Death (5/2015)

A study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface discusses how the authors, using a new technique, located red blood cells in Ötzi's body, making them the oldest example of such cells ever found. The authors alo dicovered traces of a clotting agent near his wounds. Because this agent is usually "absorbed shortly after an injury occurs," they concluded that the Iceman must have died quickly or the agent would not still be present.



Ötzi's 61 Tattoos Have Been Mapped (1/2015)

A recent study published in the Journal of Cultural Heritage analyzed the Iceman's tattoos--all 61 of them (they found two more during their analysis). The tattoos are very simple horizontal or vertical lines which were grouped into 19 clusters by the scientists. The authors concluded that the "presence of the tattoos and their precise positioning on the mummy's body shall prove helpful in the future for the in-depth analysis of their relationship with recent scientifically acquired knowledge, to help determine the real function of tattooing in prehistoric times."


Non-Human DNA Discovered in Ötzi (6/2014)

An interesting study published in PLoS ONE found a sizable amount of non-human DNA in Ötzi's body. A result of the Iceman's poor dental care (see below), this DNA came from the bacteria related to his periodontal disease. It traveled through his blood stream and colonized on his hip bone, which a biopsy revealed.


Ötzi has living relatives (10/2013)

Although analysis of Ötzi's mtDNA revealed no living relatives from his maternal ancestry, another team of scientists studied his paternal ancestry by focusing on a rare Y-chromosome mutation that Ötzi inherited.

The researchers from the Institute for Forensic Medicine in Innsbruck analyzed the DNA records of 3,700 Austrian men who had donated blood. They found 19 men who shared this same anomaly, which is a "reliable marker for ancestral relationships."

There will probably be other living relatives to Ötzi, especially when a larger sample of men is studied.


Ötzi needed a dentist (4/2013)

A new study of Ötzi's teeth, published in the European Journal of Oral Sciences, found that the Iceman had a number of cavities, severe wear on his tooth enamel from eating grain that was not finely ground, and periodontal disease. In five to ten more years, they predicted, he would have begun to lose some of his teeth. The team also found damage to one of his incisors, which they determined must have happened in a fight or an accident.


New theory about Ötzi's death: was he placed on a burial platform? (8/28/2010):

A reanalysis of Ötzi's findspot, along with the distribution of the artifacts located there, has prompted archaeologist Alessandro Vanzetti (Sapienza University of Rome), Luca Bondioli (National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography in Rome) and three other scientists to conclude that the Iceman was killed at a lower altitude, carried up the mountain, and placed on a burial platform of stones. This platform was some 20 feet uphill from the place where Ötzi's body was found in 1991. Vanzetti and Bondioli believe that over the centuries, as the ice of the glacier occasionally thawed, his body was carried downhill in the melting water and came to rest where it was eventually found.

Although other scientists agree that the Iceman's body was repositioned slightly during warmer spells, they do not believe that he died elsewhere or that the stones formed a burial platform. According to biological anthropologist Albert Zink, head of the EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, as reported on sciencenews.org, "Ötzi probably died in the mountains alone and close to where he suffered a fatal injury.... The Iceman’s joints and spine display no dislocations that would have resulted from a downhill slide. Intact blood clots in his arrow wound would show damage if the body had been carted up the mountain...."

Bondioli disagrees. He believes that the artifacts found on the melting glacier would have been randomly distributed. Instead, when the artifacts were plotted on a map, they tended to cluster in two places: near the platform and near the findspot. As the authors conclude: "A careful study of all the located grave goods...points strongly towards the scene as one of a ceremonial burial, subsequently dispersed by thawing and gravity. The whole assemblage thus takes on another aspect – not a casual tragedy but a mortuary statement of its day."

The study was published in the the September 2010 issue of Antiquity.



Study reveals two attacks and a clear chronology of Ötzi's hand and back wounds (1/28/2009):

A recent study by researchers at Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich and published in Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich and published in Intensive Care Medicine.

According to the researchers who analyzed previous studies and conducted their own, the condition of the hand wound "clearly indicated that the laceration must have been survived for at least several days." A few days later, he died after he was shot with an arrow. The researchers write that the two back wounds "suggest a wound age of the back lesions of less than few hours survival time."

What the researchers don't mention is the head wound, for reasons that are not clear.

The lead researcher, Andreas Nerlich, said: "It is now clear that Ötzi endured at least two injuring events in his last days, which may imply two separate attacks. Although the ice mummy has already been studied at great length, there are still new results to be gleaned. The crime surrounding Ötzi is as thrilling as ever!"



Study suggests that Ötzi was a herdsman (8/21/08)

Research published in Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry (using the mass spectrometer) provides evidence that the Iceman might well have been a herdsman. Scientists analyzed hair samples taken from his coat, leggings and shoes (apparently just the uppers) for proteins (or more specifically, the "patterns of peptides of fermented proteins") using MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry. Then they compared them to hair samples from various present day animals. According to an article in sciencedaily.com, "They found that Ötzi's coat and leggings were made from sheep's fur, while his moccasins were of cattle origin" [that is, cowhide]. According to the nationalgeographic.com summary of the study, "His moccasins were not made of bearskin, as previously believed. Instead they were ancient cattle skin from the kinds of seasonally migrating animals cared for by herdsmen in the region of the Alps where he was discovered."

The lead researcher, Klaus Hollemeyer of Germany's Saarland University, told reporters that MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry "was faster and more reliable than methods based on DNA analysis." It has modern day applications, too. Hollemeyer explained that "This method could...be used in checking the purity of products made from animal hair, such as Cashmere wool." It can also be used to determine if clothing uses banned animal products (such as dog or cat fur).

By the way, MALDI-TOF is short for "Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight."



Study proves how Ötzi died (6/6/07)

Swiss researchers have used a multi-slice CT-scan at the University of Zurich to piece together views of the iceman's shoulder and determine exactly how he died. They established that the point of the arrow tore "a hole in an artery beneath his left collarbone, leading to a massive loss of blood. That, in turn, caused Ötzi to go into shock and suffer a heart attack, according to the article published online in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Even today, the chances of surviving such an injury long enough to receive hospital treatment are only 40 percent...." Chief researcher Frank Rühli said that the Ct images show "a large hematoma, which means he must have had huge bleeding into the thorax cavity." His death, the scientists stated, would have been rather quick under these circumstances.



Study provides evidence that Ötzi was probably killed by multiple assailants near findspot (9/14/06):

For a long time, scientists believed that the Iceman was a hunter who was killed by another hunter's arrow in a mountain valley and managed to climb up the mountain where he died. The primary evidence for this theory was the type of plant material found in his stomach which suggested that he had been in a specific mountain valley. However, a recent CAT-scan revealed that his arrow wound involved a major artery. According to Bolzano Hospital pathologist Eduard Egarter Vigl (who has studied the Iceman over the years), this indicates that he pretty much died very near to where he was attacked and wounded, since he would not have been able to take even one step before the enormous loss of blood from such a wound killed him.



DNA Tests Suggest Ötzi Died After Violent Fight But Not Alone (8/10/03):

Results of recent DNA tests conducted by an Australian researcher have led to all sorts of new speculation about Ötzi's final days. Like crime scene investigators, molecular biologist Thomas Loy and his team (from the University of Queensland's Institute of Molecular Bioscience in Brisbane) looked for blood traces on the Iceman, his tools, and weapons. During their investigation, they saw further signs of trauma to Ötzi's body, including bruises (and cuts) on his abdomen (especially on his rib area), which (they concluded) indicates that he may have been beaten. They found DNA from four different people other than the Iceman, and they carried out each test twice to be certain of their findings.

Dr. Loy told a reporter from USA Today, "We have been working round the clock for the last three weeks to get these results. It was very exciting when the blood samples came back positive for human DNA from four separate individuals."

Specifically, they took samples from the Iceman's antler-skinning tool, his stone-tipped knife, two of his arrows (one broken), his axe handle, and his goatskin coat. Using techniques devised especially for ancient DNA, the team found four different DNA sequences: one on the knife blade, two different sequences on one arrow, and a fourth on Ötzi's goatskin coat. (They also found a small tear in the coat which may have been the entry point of the arrowhead that was found embedded in his shoulder.)

They have interpreted these findings in this way:

1. The two different blood samples on the arrow may indicate that Ötzi killed two of his assailants and retrieved the arrow to use again.

2. The blood on his coat may indicate that Ötzi carried a wounded friend on his shoulder for some distance.

Dr. Loy told news.com.au: "On the basis of all my examinations, [Ötzi's] specialty was hunting the high alpine passes for ibex and possibly chamois which would have taken him into boundary conditions where other people would have disputed the territory. His gear was stacked up neatly. He didn't keel over, although he was probably tired, exhausted and hurt like hell."



The Iceman's Wounded Hand (2/2003):

The February 2003 issue of the Smithsonian contains an article by Bob Cullen summarizing what has been discovered about the Iceman. It is worth reading as a general summary of the findings, but most important is the information it contains about a dagger found near Ötzi.

A filmmaker working on a documentary for the Discovery Channel interviewed one of the men who helped recover the Iceman's body and learned that Ötzi may have been holding a dagger in his hand when he was discovered. Dr. Egarter Vigl re-examined the Iceman's right hand in June 2002 and "found a small cut running from the palm of the right hand, just below the index finger, over to the top side of the hand" (Smithsonian). About 1.5 inches long and 6 mm. deep, the cut was discolored along the edges, indicating that the injury happened when the Iceman was alive. Dr. Egarter told author Cullen, "I think that the wound was very painful. Two fingers are nearly immobilized." X-rays also revealed two cuts on the underlying bones (of the palm and the wrist).

Additional study of the Iceman's body would help clarify questions surrounding the cause of death: If the officials at the South Tyrol Museum would grant permission, the arrowhead could be removed and an endoscopy performed to determine if any nerves or blood vessels were severed.

Ötzi's Last Meal (9/17/02):

Scientists at the University of Camerino in Italy have published the results of their DNA analysis of the contents of Otzi's intestines:

1. Ötzi first ate the meat of an ibex (wild goat) along with some grains (and pollen).

2. The pollen found in his intestines indicates that he hiked through "a coniferous forest at mid-elevation." This is most likely the site where he ate his ibex meal.

3. At a higher altitude he ate another meal: red deer and more grain. (For information about the final route that Ötzi took, follow this link.)

Results of the study were published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.



Results of Ötzi's Colon Study (10/23/01):

Researchers at the University of Glasgow have released results of their study of the Iceman's colon: they found whipworm parasite eggs. This means that Ötzi had a fairly severe intestinal disorder which would have caused diarrhea or possibly dysentery. Barley, meat, and a cereal grain known as einkorn were also found; these would have comprised his last meal or meals. Perhaps the most important finding was pollen, ingested when he drank water from local streams. These pollens indicate that he may well have died in late spring or even early summer, not in the fall (as some researchers had suspected).