about his Death
A great deal of research has
gone into the study of the Iceman, and not all of it has been expertly
done or helpful.
1: Ötzi Froze to Death
At first, scientists
believed that Ötzi
was caught in a heavy snowfall, fell asleep, and froze to death.
They concluded this because there were no signs of predator attacks (and
because they did not find conclusive evidence of other wounds). They
believed that the body must have been covered with snow almost immediately
or else the body would have been preyed upon.
1: Discarded. The first theory was put to rest in June 2001
when the Iceman was x-rayed by a different team of scientists (in
Bolzano). They discovered that he had an arrowhead buried in his left
shoulder. In June 2002, they also discovered that the Iceman had a fairly
debilitating wound to one hand.
2: Ötzi Was Injured in a Fight or a Fall Before He Froze to
Early x-rays (done in Innsbruck) appeared to show broken ribs
on his right side. This caused endless speculation about his death: Were
these fractured ribs the result of a fight or a fall shortly before his
death? Could this fight or fall have led to his death? Or did he receive
the broken ribs after he died? Konrad Spindler wrote about
this theory in quite dramatic fashion in The
Man in the Ice and Human
2: Re-examined. The second theory suffered a set back, though
when the new x-rays did not show any sign of broken ribs (though it is
possible that the broken ribs did not show up as sometimes happens). The
Italian radiology team believes that the original x-rays merely show the
results of (1) compression (snow and ice pressing against the Iceman's
ribcage) and (2) a misreading of the original x-ray (two ribs are
overlapping, which can give the appearance of a fracture when none is
Even if there are no broken
ribs, the Iceman showed obvious signs of a fight of some kind.
Other theories were proposed:
Ötzi was shot accidentally
According to author Brenda
Fowler, Dr. Annaluisa Pedrotti (University of Trento) speculated that the
Iceman may have been shot by a hunter who buried Ötzi immediately.
Theory 3: Discarded.
Studies suggest that the Iceman was a victim of homicide.
Ötzi was a victim of homicide
Again, according to Fowler, Dr.
Markus Egg (Romano-Germanic Central Museum) offered the theory that Ötzi was
a shepherd who was killed by another shepherd who wanted a larger flock of
animals. Dr. Eduard Egarter Vigl proposed other possibilities: a returning
herdsman, he arrived home as his village was being attacked, or he arrived
home to find that "another man had taken his wife during his
A study published in early 2009 suggested
that the Iceman was injured in a brawl (the deep gash in his hand) a few
days before he was killed by the arrow. They theorize that he fled from
his village in a hurry--as shown by his unfinished arrows
No one doubts that the Iceman was a
victim of homicide at this point. The
evidence for injuries received a few days apart also seems convincing. The
remaining issues are the motive and the circumstances, and both remain unclear.
Ötzi was a victim of attempted robbery and devised an unsuccessful plan
(the Lizard Tail Gambit) to ensnare his assailant
suggests that the Iceman was the victim of attempted robbery. Someone
wanted his copper axe. Ötzi fought him off, injuring his hand in a
knife fight. As he retreated up the mountain, the robber shot him in the
shoulder with an arrow and followed him.
According to Jandácek,
Ötzi planned a strategy to save himself. Using something like the
Lizard Tail Gambit (a chess strategy, in which a pawn or two are
sacrificed to achieve a better position), the Iceman placed his belongings
(his backpack, bow, and his highly desirable ax) on top of some rocks; he
positioned his quiver on the ground a few feet away. Ötzi took only his
dagger and his container of hot coals. He covered himself in a snowdrift,
using a peephole to watch for his attacker. He placed his left arm under
his chin and his right arm straight at his side, his right hand grasping a
dagger in self defense, in case the gambit failed.
The snowfall was heavy, however, and the
attacker gave up. Ötzi waited, until perhaps he fell asleep and froze to
death, protected from predators by the snowdrift he had used for cover. But
these theories were superceded by another.
Theory 5: A possibility. This
is as good a theory as any. Unfortunately, there is no way to
6: Ötzi was a
victim of a power play
to Walter Leitner of the Institute for Ancient and Early History at
the University of Innsbruck in Austria, Ötzi may well have been a
shaman and a highly respected member of his group. In a power play,
another group of individuals wanted to assume that power--what
better way than killing the Iceman. Leitner believes Ötzi was a
shaman because of the possessions he had with him, in particular the
copper axe which was not a common object.
Leitner also believes that
the attackers kept at a distance during their attack, perhaps
because they were afraid of the shaman and what he might do. When Ötzi
was wounded, he may have tried to descend the mountain but was
overcome (Leitner believes that it makes sense for Ötzi to have
tried to go down the mountain, once he was wounded, rather than up
to a higher position). By killing him in the mountains, well
out of sight, his attackers may have hoped that his death (or
disappearance) was seen as an accident. Perhaps that is why his
tools and weapons were left with the body. had they taken them,
others who knew them would have wondered why they had these items.
Theory 6: A possibility. This,
too, has possibilities, and is a variation of Theory 4. Could the
Iceman have been a shaman (a recent study suggests that he was a
herdsman)? Evidence suggests that he was attacked by multiple
assailants. But why? This theory offers a possibility.
7: Ötzi was
placed on a burial platform
According to a
scientific team of researchers headed by Alessandro Vanzetti (Sapienza
University of Rome), Ötzi 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's team concluded 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. Vanzetti and his team reached this conclusion
by reanalyzing the distribution of the artifacts in and around the
This diagram of
the Iceman's findspot shows the relation of the platform
to the artifacts. According to the scientists, an analysis
of the artifacts revealed that they were primarily
clustered around the body and the stone platform. Green
circles indicate small artifacts such clumps of hair. The
letters show the location of the major artifacts: (A) a
grass mat, (B) backpack, (C) ax, (D) bow, (E) birch bark
vessel, (F) dagger, (G) quiver, and (H) his cap. This
diagram is based on one that appears in the September
2010 issue of Antiquity.
However, while 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 Icemans 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...."
believes that the artifacts found on the melting glacier would have
been randomly distributed. Instead, when the artifacts were plotted
on a map (see above), 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
Could Ötzi have been
buried on the mountain? Right now, this remains another theory.
asteroid responsible for the iceman's death? (6/5/08)
A more recent (and 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
course, a thinking person might also wonder if there is any
indication that the Iceman was a human sacrifice.
As you can see, there
are still many questions that need to be addressed (and that may
never be answered). Perhaps with more research, scientists will be
able to discover more information about Ötzi. However, no theory will ever be
proven beyond a shadow of a doubt (unless they can bring the Iceman
back to life)--and many of the theories easily
overlap. Stay tuned for the next one.
Some have wondered if Ötzi could have fallen on the
arrow. So I wrote to Brenda Fowler and asked for clarification on
this subject. She responded that the original radiologists, Drs. zur
Nedden and William Murphy, agree:
...that there wouldn't have been
enough power in the fall to plunge the arrowhead all the way
through his fur coat AND the shoulder blade. Still, ...we don't
know how he carried his quiver. It's rough walking up there, and
perhaps he could have slipped and fallen backwards onto his
quiver. That might also explain the two broken arrows in the
If you would like to
believe this possibility, you must ask: how did his hand get
wounded? Did he fall on his knife?
to Make a Mummy Talk (Deem, 1995),
National Geographic (June 1993), Petr Jandácek (personal
correspondence); Smithsonian (February 2003), Discovery.com