Ötzi the Iceman @ Mummy Tombs




His Icy Chamber

Ötzi receives visitors at his special icy chamber in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology (or Museo Archeologico dell'Alto Adige) in Bolzano, Italy.

The latest DVD from PBS's NOVA:

After many years of study at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, Ötzi was moved to a specially-built state-of-the-art exhibit in Bolzano where his body was placed in a special chamber, which can be viewed through a small porthole.


Chamber #1

His first chamber was kept a constant 21.2°F. His body was placed on top of an electronic scale that measured his weight (any change in weight would tell scientists that something was wrong--they wanted to make sure that the body will not decay and that it would not be invaded by molds or other organisms). 

Scientists were so concerned about preserving his body that two other identical chambers were built in case the first failed.

Chamber #2

In December 2003, the Iceman was moved to a new chamber: an ice-tiled igloo guaranteed to keep him colder and more humidified. [NOTE: When I had visited the museum in December 2002, Ötzi's body was covered with a kind of thick "goo." I assumed that it was to help moisturize his very dry skin. I didn't realize that there were problems with his first icy chamber.]

This was necessary, according to the Associated Press, because, (after he began to be displayed in the first chamber) "the Iceman has lost about five grams (.175 ounces) of water weight every 24 hours, primarily because the humidity in his refrigerated cell fluctuated from the lights and a viewing window." This required the museum to treat the Iceman with artificial humidity every two weeks.

The new igloo removes the need for this treatment. In it, his body will be kept at constant temperature (6.12° C) and a constant humidity (99.42 percent vs. the old humidity level of 97.12). Even that small change in humidity level should help preserve the Iceman better. In a press release, the museum stated: "In this way, the microclimate of the cell is preserved, guaranteeing unvarying conservation conditions." 

With the new chamber, the body is still visible through the small window, but the inside of the chamber has been changed to resemble an ice-tiled igloo. The igloo is kept a constant 20.98°F (-6.12° C) with a higher humidity rate (99.42 percent) than before (97.12 percent).


Is the second chamber working?

 In May 2005, Dr. Eduard Egarter Vigl warned that the Iceman may be in danger of decaying. A recent x-ray uncovered some gray spots on one knee, a potential sign that gas is being produced beneath the surface. That gas might indicate the presence of bacteria...which could threaten the Iceman's second life as a mummy. The doctor also indicated that the Iceman is losing weight from dehydration.

Dr. Egarter Vigl recommended a needle biopsy on the gray spots to determine if bacteria was present, but Bruno Hosp, president of South Tyrol provincial museums, responded that no such testing needed to be done. A needle biopsy is considered an invasive test, which (museum authorities decided four years ago) can no longer be done on Ötzi.

Only more time will tell if Ötzi is developing a preservation problem. Stay tuned for more details.