March 7, 2017
Posted by in Creatures and Monsters | 11.00pm | 1,120 views
When Helmut Simon and his wife, Erika, stumbled upon an odd sight during their hike of the Ötztal Alps on the Austrian-Italian border in September 1991, they chalked it up to being the remains of a lost mountaineer. They had come across the mummified corpse of a person half-entombed in the ice at an elevation of 10,530 feet. Local officials who followed up on the couple’s report carried out an initial examination of the remains and hypothesised that it was the body of an Italian soldier lost during one of the World Wars.
Little did they know that they were looking at one of the most famous prehistoric bodies ever to be found. The Iceman, who is fondly referred to as Otzi or Oetzi by scientists and netizens alike as an informal tribute to its place of discovery, has been determined to have perished in the Alps an astounding 5,300 years ago.
To date, scientists are amazed by the sheer luck at play that led to the amazing preservation of Otzi. Otzi succumbed to his death more than 5,300 years ago and his body fell into a small gully surrounded by large rocks. That same small gully happens to run perpendicular to the Niederjoch Glacier, and researchers have deduced that it filled up with snow immediately after Otzi’s death.
Such conditions allowed for Otzi to essentially be freeze-dried by extreme weather. These conditions removed most of the body’s water content prior to it being wholly frozen, which resulted in minimal deterioration of Otzi’s body and his artefacts. Further, as the glacier moved over the gully, the large rocks prevented its grinding base from moving or even crushing Otzi, thus enabling him to be entombed in the exact same position in solid ice for centuries.
One can just imagine the odds of Otzi falling into such a protective trench at the start of the Ice Age, which allowed him to be preserved in such an excellent state. More interestingly, luck also played a huge role in Otzi’s discovery. Firstly, Otzi’s final resting place was in a remote and desolate area, so the likelihood of anyone coming across his remains was very low. Secondly, the dust storms from the Sahara desert blowing across Europe caused an unusually hot summer which melted the ice just enough to expose Otzi in time for him to be discovered. Had Otzi remained undiscovered for much longer, the ice would have kept melting, thus causing his body to decompose rapidly.
Embroiled in Controversy
Before Otzi the Iceman could even be properly examined, he had already caused quite a number of disputes. The first was between Austria and Italy who both fought to lay claim to Otzi. Each argued that he was found within their respective locales. It was then determined by surveyors that the body was found in Italian territory.
The subsequent legal battles that ensued were related to the claim of who the “official finders” of Otzi were. To begin with, the Italian Government refused to pay the finder’s fees sought by the Simons. Then, in the midst of the Simons’ battle with the Italian Government, two other claimants came forward, declared that they had discovered the body first. One even alleged that she spat on Otzi intentionally at the time of her discovery so as to stake her claim.
The legal battles ended with the Simons being ruled as Otzi’s “official finders or discoverers” in 2005 and in 2008, the Italian Government agreed to an out-of-court settlement with the Simons.
Unlike other mummies which are brittle and dry with powdery bones that tend to crumble upon touch, Otzi is said to be in “fresh” condition with his flesh, bones and muscle intact. In addition, his organs are well preserved with an eye, brain and tongue still inside his skull as well as his heart, liver and lungs inside his body.
In fact, Otzi is an extremely rare find as experts deem freeze-desiccated mummies as the best pedigree of natural mummies which leaves a lot behind for researchers to investigate. This is largely because the freeze-drying process results in the removal of water from the body which in turn prevents the rupture and destruction of cells caused by the freezing of wet tissue.
Since his discovery, Otzi has been photographed, X-rayed, CT-scanned and even biopsied for DNA. Such scientific examination has not only revealed that Otzi likely died somewhere between 3239-3107 B.C. at the age of 45 but also had a whole host of health problems that plagued him during his lifetime – from Lyme disease, worn joints, hardened arteries, advanced gum disease to tooth decay, gallstones, dairy allergies, arsenic poisoning (likely from working with copper) to even a nasty growth on his little toe (perhaps caused by frostbite).
Furthermore, Otzi had anatomical abnormalities where he lacked both wisdom teeth and a 12th pair of ribs. Appearance-wise, Otzi is said to have had brown eyes and brown hair as well as a caddish gap between his two front teeth. Moreover, Otzi is believed to have been quite a wiry, sporty figure standing at 1.60 metres tall and weighing about 50kg when he was alive, as the mummy is 1.54 metres in length and weighs approximately 13kg.
Interestingly, Otzi also had about 50 different tattoos made with fine incisions on his body, namely near his ribcage and lumbar spine, on his wrist, knee, calves and ankles. Traces of charcoal were found on them.
Scientists have deduced that the charcoal likely served as a pain reliever. Given that the tattoo incisions were found on the acupuncture meridians of his body, some scientists also went on to suggest that this was evidence that acupuncture actually predates the Asian acupuncture tradition by at least 2000 years.
Perfectly preserved in an Alpine glacier with artefacts that included his clothes, shoes and weapons, Otzi has afforded much insight into life in the region during the late Neolithic period, from how such prehistoric people lived to what they wore and even what they ate.
Otzi’s social standing during his lifetime remains an enigma, with different people coming up with different theories. He has been called a shepherd, a trader, a hunter, a mineral prospector, a fugitive and even a shaman; but to date, there isn’t a general consensus within the scientific fraternity as to Otzi’s social status. However, one thing which they pretty much agree on is that he hadn’t lived in a settlement for some time by taking into account the state of his equipment which had makeshift repairs.
Perhaps Otzi’s most intriguing legacy is that his bloodline lives on. With his well-preserved state, genetic testing was possible and scientists from Austria managed to isolate a rare genetic mutation in the 5,300–year-old mummy, one that only passes down through the male genetic line.
This led to the revelation that Otzi has at least 19 male descendants alive as of 2013 in Austria’s Tyrol region. It is believed that these numbers will increase as more testing is still underway with an expanded search of blood donors living in Italy and Switzerland.
Ancient Murder Victim
Initially, Otzi was thought to have succumbed to his injuries after being on the losing end of a violent confrontation where he sustained a deep arrow wound on his shoulder and a fatal blow to his head. From the pre- and post-mortem cuts, bruises and injuries as well as the analysis of the four different blood types found on Otzi and his artefacts, scientists believe that Otzi killed two of his pursuers before being tracked down by the rest. He is also believed to have been brutally murdered in his weakened state of exhaustion and starvation.
However, following a more detailed scan, scientists have realised that what they initially thought was Otzi’s empty stomach was actually part of his colon. His stomach, which had been pushed upwards under his ribs while he was in the ice, was full of ibex meat. This refuted the earlier theory involving a dramatic chase and starvation since the scan revealed that Otzi had eaten a large meal not more than an hour before his death. The scientists were also able to detect a blood-clotting protein called fibrin on Otzi’s arrow wound using nanotechnology. Since fibrin vanishes quickly in a working body, its presence proved that Otzi died very quickly after being shot instead of surviving the arrow wound for days.
Following this new evidence, it is now believed that Otzi was ambushed and shot sometime after his meal. The cause of death is still the blow to the head although there is no conclusive evidence as to whether the head injury was a result of being struck or from his fall after being shot by an arrow.
Along with the establishment of Otzi’s murder came the murmurings of a curse fanned by the uncanny deaths of seven people associated with his discovery. In addition to the mysterious circumstances of those deaths, Otzi’s grisly end lent more strength to the claim of a curse that could have been activated by Otzi’s removal from his final resting place.
The first death linked to the ‘curse’ was Rainer Henn, a forensic pathologist from the University of Innsbruck who died in a catastrophic car crash on his way to give a lecture on some of his findings concerning Otzi. He was one of the first scientists who worked on Otzi and in fact, he was the first to pry Otzi’s body, with his bare hands, from the ice to place it in a body bag.
The second victim was Kurt Fritz, who was killed in a freak avalanche. He was the only member of his party to be struck by falling rocks during that avalanche and ironically, it occurred in a region he was supposedly familiar with. Fritz was the mountain guide who had led Henn to the body and was also one of the first to help uncover the body.
These two deaths were followed by the death of Rainer Hoelzl, who had filmed an exclusive documentary of Otzi’s removal from the ice which was broadcast internationally. He developed a mysterious illness, speculated to have been a brain tumour, within several months after the broadcast. It is spookily said that Hoelzl perished in extreme pain shortly thereafter.
Next on this trail of death was one of the official discoverers of Otzi, Helmut Simon. In October 2004, Simon went missing while on a hike on Austria’s Gaiskarkogel peak. After an intense search, his body was found eight days later, crumpled in a small stream, having fallen some 300 feet from a treacherous ledge after a sudden whipping blizzard swept through the area. Eerily, his body was found covered in ice much like Otzi.
The fifth victim, Dieter Warnecke, was the head of the mountain rescue team sent to look for Simon. He died of a heart attack mere hours after Simon’s funeral.
The sixth victim was Konrad Spindler, one of the first scientists to examine Otzi. His cause of death was complications connected to multiple sclerosis.
The final and perhaps the strangest of the deaths linked to the Iceman curse was that of Tom Loy, who insisted that he did not believe in curses and that it was all pure, wild superstition. Loy was the molecular archaeologist who had discovered four different types of blood on both the Iceman’s clothing and his weapons, which was a significant breakthrough pertaining to the riddle of Otzi’s death. Shortly after his involvement with Otzi, Loy was diagnosed with a rare hereditary blood condition. He died just prior to completing a book about Otzi.
Body of Cain, One of the Earliest Biblical Villains?
Interestingly, there are some quarters which have drawn a link between Otzi and Cain, the first human villain from the Holy Bible. Cain, the firstborn of Adam and Eve murdered his own brother, Abel due to extreme jealousy. This rather controversial hypothesis is based largely on;
- the carbon dating of Otzi and the time frame of Cain’s life from historical biblical studies being extremely close, and
- the linking of Cain’s sevenfold curse as stated in the Holy Bible with the deaths of seven people associated with the discovery or study of Otzi within a relatively short period of time.
So, is this a case of people finding a pattern where there is none or is this a sign of some sinister force at play? The concept of cursed mummies is indeed intriguing and Otzi is by no means the first mummy to be associated with a curse. However, it is also worth noting that these deaths only totalled seven and many other individuals, probably hundreds, were involved with Otzi’s discovery and the subsequent research on his body and associated artefacts.
Are these just reflections of our fear of the unknown or are they in actuality the malevolent curses inherent in Otzi’s remains? At present, Otzi lies refrigerated in a technologically sophisticated chamber deep within South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy, and the curse for now, seems to be silent.
- BARONI, C. & OROMBELLI, G. (1996): Short paper – the alpine “Iceman” and Holocene Climatic Change.Quaternary Research 46: 78-83
- MAGNY, M. & HAAS, J.N. (2004): Rapid Communication – A major widespread climatic change around 5300 cal. yr BP at the time of the Alpine Iceman. Journal of Quaternary Science 19(5): 423-430
- OEGGL, K. (2009): The significance of the Tyrolean Iceman for the archaeobotany of Central Europe. Veget. Hist. Archaeobot. 18:1-11
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