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Ötzi at 30

Ötzi the Ice Man was discovered by a couple of mountain climbers in the peaks above the Ötztal Valley in the Italian Alps in September 1991. Over the intervening 30 years, teams of researchers have investigated his mummified corpse and possessions with all the high technology of today’s medicine and science. So what do we know now?

The well-preserved 5,300 year-old body, adorned with 61 tattoos on his back and elsewhere, has yielded its secrets slowly over the decades. Ötzi lay outstretched in his stomach, his left arm angled to the right lying under his chin. The body was naturally mummified, complete with organic tissues. Radiocarbon dates showed that he had died in about 3300 BC, a time when metal first came into use in the region.

Lean and wiry, he stood about 1.6m tall and weighed around 50kg. He wore a cloak, a bearskin caps, shoes, and leggings. Microscopic bone structures showed that he was in his 40s when he died. While basically healthy, he suffered from Lyme disease and several internal parasites. His hips, spine, and knees showed telltale indications of arthritis, his teeth were heavily worn and showed signs of decay. Ötzi’s lungs were soot coated, a sign of many hours around open fires. He had brown eyes, type O blood, and was lactose intolerant, while his DNA has affinity with the inhabitants of Corsica and Sardinia. Isotopic analysis showed that he came from the southern side of the Alps. His last meal included ibex and red deer meat, einkorn wheat, and a poisonous fern, perhaps a treatment for internal parasites.

Most likely, he was ambushed and murdered by a flint-tipped arrow embedded in his left shoulder that severed his subclavian artery, also a severe head wound to the head.

Ötzi is on display at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, visit for more information.

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