Reconstruction: Alfons & Adrie Kennis © South Tyrol Museum Archaeology/Ochsenreiter

He may not be the world’s oldest skier, but at more than 5000 years, he is the world’s oldest and best-preserved wet mummy. Given his advancing years, Ötzi is in particularly good shape. 

Named for where he was found in 1991 by two hikers on the Italian-Austrian border, Ötzi now resides in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in the lovely small Northern Italian city of Bolzano. If you find yourself in the general vicinity, I strongly recommend paying him a visit.

© South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology

One of the many effects of global warming is the discovery of ancient things thawing their way out of the ice: thousand year old skis in Oppland County, Norway; a 500-year-old girl with perfectly preserved hands found in the Andes; an almost intact wooly mammoth found in Russia’s Arctic Lyakhovsky Islands. To learn more watch this brief “Secrets of the Ice” video.

But Ötzi stands apart, for his age, his superb condition, and the extensive science applied to understanding who he was. His genome has been mapped, his stomach contents carefully analyzed, and his belongings extensively interpreted. 

He is thought to have been a traveling shaman dispensing medical treatments. Evidence for that is in the form of fungi with antibiotic properties found in a sack. He also had dots and lines tattooed on either side of his lower spine at known acupuncture pain relief sites. Interestingly, even today, similarly located tattoos are found on people from primitive cultures.

Ötzi also had no hand callouses and underdeveloped upper body musculature, suggesting he was not engaged in agriculture or other physically demanding activities. Indeed, his animal skin clothing was finely put together and his axe decorative and showing little wear, possible signs of status and respect.

But respected or not, Ötzi was murdered. A 21st Century police detective examining the evidence concluded he was murdered a day or two following a violent fight. A cut on one of his hands suggests he had defended himself during the recent altercation. An arrowhead found in his body had severed an artery and caused his death. Detective work showed it was shot from a distance of about 100’. Because he was found with all his belongings, the possibility of theft has been ruled out.

© South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/Ochsenreitr

Visitors to the museum view Ötzi’s gnarled flesh and twisted frame through a window in the freezer room where he’s on display. 

A reconstruction based on everything known about him stands in an adjacent gallery, created with the help of police forensics. 

Some of you may remember that long before Ötzi came out of the ice, Mel Brooks was considered to be the world’s oldest man. He and Carl Reiner drew upon his longevity in their classic comedy routine.

The South Tyrol Museum isn’t large, but it is one of the most fascinating places I’ve seen. If you’re planning a trip to the Dolomites, it’s a place you’ll want to visit along the way.

One Comment

  1. Was just there. Well worth the trip.

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