New theory about Ötzi's
death: was he placed on a burial platform?
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
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."
For more information, see
the Theories page.
The study was published in
the the September
2010 issue of Antiquity.
New DNA study provides Ötzi's complete genome
After extracting DNA from a
bone in Ötzi's pelvis, scientists have produced the complete genome of
the Iceman. This will allow scientists to hunt for his modern-day
relatives and study how certain diseases such as cancer and diabetes have
mutated over the millennia.
This new study provides the
most information to date about the iceman's DNA. Two
earlier studies analyzed his mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) which
provides information about his female ancestors. The new study--with its
complete genome--opens the door to a wider population of matches. By the
twentieth anniversary of the Iceman's discovery (September 19, 2011),
scientists are hopeful that a few modern-day relatives might be found.
For more information, see the DNA
government of Bolzano finally agrees to pay €150,000
settlement to Erika Simon (6/15/2009)
At the end of September 2008,
the lawyer representing Erika Simon (and Helmut
Simon's estate) announced that the lawsuit between the Simons and the
Bolzano provincial goverment was over. The lawyer stated that a six-figure
(150,000 euros or approximately $208,000 USD) settlement of the
lawsuit would be paid to Erika Simon in a public ceremony by the end of
October 2008. That didn't happen as the provincial government of
Bolzano apparently dragged its feet and resisted the settlement.
On June 15, 2009, however,
government authorities announced that they would pay the €150,000
fee to Erika Simon. Whether this will be done in a public ceremony is not
For more information, see the Lawsuit
reveals two attacks and a clear chronology of Ötzi's
hand and back wounds (1/28/2009)
A recent study concludes
was attacked at least twice during his final few days of life. He had an
"older" wound (on
his hand where there was a deep and severe gash) and two "newer"
wounds (both on his back: the site where the arrow struck him and a
bruised area nearby where he was struck by a blunt object). For more
information, go to Scientific Studies.
study suggests that the Iceman apparently has no living relatives
A recent study in Current
Biology (October 30, 2008) has found that the Iceman's mitochondrial
DNA is apparently not related to anyone living today. This contradicts an
earlier 1994 study (based on a much smaller sample of DNA) which suggested
might have living descendants. Researchers are careful to point out that,
if a larger number of Europeans are tested (providing a wider DNA sample),
it is still possible a genetic link might be found between the Iceman and
For more information, see the Scientific
settlement to be paid to Helmut Simon's estate by the end of October
On September 27, 2008, the
lawyer representing Helmut Simon's estate announced that a six-figure
settlement of the lawsuit will be paid to Erika Simon in a public ceremony
by the end of October 2008.
Ötzi's finder fee may be finally settled (8/26/08)
On August 26,
2008, the provincial council of Bolzano apparently offered Erika Simon a
settlement amount of €100,000 (approximately $150,000) to end the
lawsuit that Helmut and Erika Simon filed to establish a finder's fee for
For more information, see the Lawsuit
Further indication that
was a herdsman (8/21/08)
A study published in the
Communications in Mass Spectrometry, indicates that the Iceman may
well have been a herdsman. Researchers
used hair samples taken from the Iceman's coat, leggings and shoes,
studying the proteins found there and comparing them to modern day animal
hair samples. By this comparison process, they were able to determine that
"Ötzi's coat and
leggings were made from sheep's fur" while his upper shoes were
cattle-made. The fact that he wore clothing made from domesticated animals
suggests (at least to some scientists) that the iceman was a herdsman
rather than a hunter (who might have clothing made from wild animals).
an asteroid responsible for the iceman's death? (6/5/08)
A new (somewhat far-fetched?)
theory proposed by a UK space technology professor from Bristol University
suggests that the Iceman's death may be connected to the landing of an
asteroid in Austria around 3000 B.C. Professor Mark Hempsell theorized
that Ötzi may have
been sacrificed to placate the gods who were responsible for the
asteroid's crash. The asteroid event is reportedly mentioned on an
Assyrian tablet discovered in during the 19th century in northern Iraq.
DNA may trace descendents and ancestors (4/30/08)
A new DNA study is underway,
conducted by Dr. Gianluca De Bellis of the CNR Institute of Biomedical
Technology and Professor Franco Rollo of the University of Camerino,
according to a press release issued by Roche Diagnostics.
Original DNA studies suggested
that "Oetzi’s mitochondrial DNA does not
resemble any sub-type found in any present existing ethnic group."
However, a new process, called Genome Sequencer FLX from Roche
Diagnostics, can purportedly "shed more light on the subject of Oetzi’s
descendents, and establish his place in the genetic scenario of the
present European race. Furthermore, 454 Sequencing data will enable
researchers to trace Oetzi’s ancestors; and
reconstruct an accurate phylogenetic family tree, obtaining an authentic
global view of human evolution." Results are expected by summer
After this study is completed,
"De Bellis plans to study Oetzi’s eating
habits. Tissue samples that have been extracted from the mummy’s
colon will enable an analysis of his intestinal flora. The reason for this
investigation will be to compare the genes between the embryonic digestive
tube bacteria of Neolithic man with those of the present day modern
cause of Ötzi's death (8/29/07)
researchers claimed to have found the the exact cause of the iceman's
death, another team of scientists begs to disagree. Yes, they say, the
Iceman was seriously wounded by an arrow, which caused him to lose
consciousness, but a subsequent head wound was ultimately responsible for
(Andreas Lippert, a prehistory professor at the University of Vienna, Paul
Gostner and Patrizia Pernter, radiologists at the Bolzano regional
hospital, and Eduard Egarter Vigl, a pathologist at the hospital) reached
their conclusion by studying the Iceman's position.
two possible scenarios:
believe that he may have hit his head after losing consciousness and
unconscious Iceman was hit in the head by his attacker, which killed him.
case, after the Iceman was dead, his attacker turned the body over and
removed the arrow shaft (the design of which might have identified him).
Results of the
analysis were published in Germania.
of Ötzi's death is finally official (6/6/07)
researchers have pinpointed the exact cause of the iceman's death.
Although researchers knew that Ötzi had been injured by an arrow, they
were never quite sure whether he froze to
death before the injury could kill him or how long he survived.
By using a
multi-slice CT-scan at the University of Zurich, researchers led by Frank
Rühli, were able to piece together views of the iceman's shoulder showing
the wound. By doing this, they established that "the
arrow had torn 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
that the "arrowhead actually hit an artery and we see the lesion of
the artery. We also see in these CT images 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
Of course, no
one will ever know what events led up to the injury. More research
can be found in the current issue of the Journal of Archaeological
Science and will be published in the U.S. and German editions of National Geographic next
Brad Pitt has an Ötzi tattoo (5/18/07)
confirm (with photo) that Brad Pitt has placed a tattoo of the Iceman's
body on his left inner forearm.
Ötzi lawsuit rages on (9/27/06)
Just when it
appeared that the lawsuit over the finder's fee for the Iceman was
resolved (see 6/5/06 below), the government of the Bolzano province (where
Ötzi now resides) has appealed a lower court decision. The case now goes
to the Cassation Court, Italy's highest court.
indicate that the Simons originally asked a finder's fee of about
$300,000, but this fee apparently was reduced after the June finding...to
€150,000 (about $195,000). The provincial government believes that the
high expenses it has incurred to establish a museum and maintain the
Iceman's preservation should be considered when determining the finder's
fee; therefore, a reduced fee is justified. According to one official,
"One has to consider that we have borne all the expense of exploiting
the find." Of course, Mrs. Simon sees things differently.
If Ötzi only
knew about this legal battle, what would he think? (News story at ansa.it.)
provides evidence that Ötzi was probably killed by multiple
near findspot (9/14/06)
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
Egarter Vigl (who has studied the Iceman over the years), this
indicates that he pretty much died where the wound took place, since he
would not have been able to take even one step before the enormous loss of
blood from such a wound killed him. (News story at ansa.it.)
Ötzi was a shepherd
the time of his discovery in 1991, scientists and others have speculated
that the Iceman was a hunter. But a recent study published in the Journal
of Human Evolution ("Body size, body proportions, and
mobility in the Tyrolean ' Iceman,' " volume 51, issue 1, July 2006)
suggests that he may have been a shepherd instead.
By studying Ötzi's
leg bones, primarily his tibia,
or shin bone, and comparing it to the shin bones of 139 other prehistoric
men who lived from the Mesolithic age (Middle Stone Age) and from the Neolithic
age (Late Stone Age), scientists led by Christopher
Ruff from John Hopkins University hoped to answer the question:
how did the Iceman's measure up?
"In many respects, his tibia more closely resembles those of European
Mesolithic rather than Neolithic males, which may reflect a more mobile
lifestyle than was characteristic of most Neolithic males, perhaps related
to a pastoral subsistence strategy" (that is, work as a shepherd).
According to Dr. Ruff, The Iceman "evidently went for long walks over
extremely hilly terrain" and "was much more active than his
contemporaries" as reflected by the look of his tibia. Ruff
continued, "He was more like the people who came before" (that
is the people from the Mesolithic Age) and suggests that his occupation
was "probably that of a high-altitude shepherd." (News story at ansa.it.)
lawsuit not over (6/5/06)
finder's fee lawsuit between Erika Simon (and her deceased husband Helmut)
and the government of the Bolzano province (where the Iceman is now
located) seems to be over. An appeals court has ruled that the Simons did
indeed discover the Iceman and are therefore entitled to a finder's fee.
What's more, the provincial government must also pay the Simons' legal
fees. Italian law indicates that the finder's fee for a discovery is 25
percent of the item's value. The problem is: how does anyone place a value
on the mummified remains of the Iceman?
officials insist they will pay no more than €50,000 (about $65,000). The
Simons have argued that the Iceman has made a considerable amount of money
for the provincial government both in admissions fees at the museum and in
money brought in through tourism; they believe that they are entitled to
considerably more money. (News story at discovery.com.)
Iceman's death carved on an ancient stone stele? (3/22/06)
Dal Ri, director of the archaeological office of the Bolzano province, has
reported that an ancient stone stele used to build a church altar contains
carvings that seem to record the Iceman's death. Dal Ri told a reporter
that one part of the carved stele "shows an archer ready to shoot an
arrow on an unarmed man's back...[which bears] an impressive resemblance
with Ötzi's death. It is indeed a fascinating hypothesis, though we can't
say for sure this is the picture of Ötzi's murder."
He plans to
study the stele further. Although it comes from Ötzi's time period (the
Copper Age), it must be more precisely dated. Even if further study does
not link the stele to the Iceman's death, the stone is still important as
an early representation of murder.