The 5,000 Year Old Murder Victim

The Ice Man
A modern re-construction of the Ice Man at the South Tyrol Museum in Austria.

I. A Hike Into The Pre-Historic World
In 1991, two German tourists hiking in the Austrian Alps accidentally discovered one of the world's most ancient murder victims. The victim died alone, crawling through the snow, in the icy Austrian Alps 1300 years before the Great Pyramid rose from the Egyptian desert in 2566 BC. The victim was killed roughly 3,000 years before the coming of Christ - in approximately 3300 B.C.

Helmut and Erika Simon had unwittingly discovered, and originally documented, the incredibly well-preserved "natural mummy" of a 5,000 year old murder victim known today at the "Ice Man".

The Simons first believed they had found a murder victim or the body of a long missing lost hiker and alerted the police. Yet, this body, with the tattered remainder of with his barbarian hunting gear, weaponry and internal organs surprisingly intact, would be become one of the strangest and most remarkable finds in all of European history.

This body's discovery is made all the more remarkable due to the amount of scientific information that this body has provided to us about the ancient, prehistoric world.

After learning of the find from police, a small expedition was sent out to retrieve the mysterious natural mummy for identification. Scientists at the nearby Austrian University of Innsbruck in Tyrol were the first to determine that the body was not the remains of an unfortunate local hiker but in fact prehistoric remains.

II. 6th Millenium BC
Using the modern technique of paleoforensics and carbon dating, scientists eventually dated the body of the "Ice Man" near 3300 BC. "Ozti" named after the Otztal range of mountains in Austria where he was uncovered was a 5 foot 5 inch, 110 pound 45 year-old-man who have lived over 5,413 years ago.

The age of this man's body alone is mind-boggling. First, due to it's incredible preservation. Second, due to the fact that finally here was undeniable proof of a moderately advanced Stone Age culture active in Southern Europe. Third, and most shocking of all, was that the tools found with the Ice Man's corpse place this culture at doorstep to the Bronze Age nearly 2,000 years ahead of the curve for the rest of Europe.

5,000 years ago, at the time of Ötzi, was the Stone Age for this portion of Europe. Yet, Ötzi was found with a copper axe head... almost 2000 years before the Bronze Age (1700 BC - 1150 BC) that made copper a widespread tool material.

How can this be explained? Was this truly part of his equipment? Was this the first proof of an elaborate hoax?

To understand the distance from us, as modern men, and The Ice Man - we must first understand the Ages of Man. The term "Paleolithic" or Stone Age comes from three historical categories that mark man's intellectual and physical ascent from animal. It is the second of three major ages of mankind. They include Stone, Bronze (including Copper), and the modern age of Iron.

The occurrence of the Ages of Man depended largely on factors inherent in each continent that they took place within. In ancient Mesopotamia, roughly Iraq, Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran, the Bronze Age, named by the most widely used technology of the period namely bronze, started near 2900 BC[0].

In Southern Europe near Italy, due to the harsh wintery climates and a lack of large communities, the Bronze Age began in 1700 BC with farming societies that are known today as the Terramare.

So where was this innovation, the copper axe head, created for the Ice Man?

The Ice Man lived at the end of of Stone Age in Southern Europe. His civilization was made up of a handful of sophisticated hunter-gatherers with only a few scattered major population centers. The remains of a Central European population center in prehistoric Tyrol in Austria shows farming settlements dating back to 5000 B.C. It's logical to believe that The Ice Man knew about this prehistoric city.

Could he have purchased this rare axe there? If so, was he murdered for it? And if this is also so, why didn't his attackers steal the copper axe head from his dead body? Did the Ice Man kill or injure his attackers and then flee into the mountains?

There in the mountains was where the body of Ötzi The Ice Man was found. The Ice Man's bruised, wounded corpse, complete with unhealed wounds sustained near to the time of his death was found nearly 100 snowy miles from ancient Tyrol.

Never reaching his destination, his corpse was found lodged in the melting ice in the Oztal Alps in Austria near the Austrian/Italian border 5,000 years after he died of his wounds.

III. Death Of A 5,000 Year Old Hunter-Gatherer
University researchers in Tyrol display the Ice Man find. Photo by Werner Nosko.
University researchers in Tyrol display the Ice Man find. Photo by Werner Nosko.

The only answers we can find are in the body of The Ice Man.

Violence contributing to Ötzi's death: cerebral trauma, fractures on the left side of rib cage, deep defensive wounds to the hands and a stone arrowhead embedded in the flesh of his right shoulder with a matching tear in his clothing. This last wound, the arrow, showed no formation of scar tissue leading scientists in 2001 to believe that he died with this wound.

Ötzi's clothes were sophisticated. He wore a cloak made of woven grass and a coat, a belt, a pair of leggings, a loincloth and shoes, all made of leather of different skins. He also wore a bearskin cap with a leather chin strap. The shoes were waterproof and wide, seemingly designed for walking across the snow; they were constructed using bearskin for the soles, deer hide for the top panels, and a netting made of tree bark.

Soft grass went around the foot and in the shoe and functioned like modern socks. The coat, belt, leggings and loincloth were constructed of vertical strips of leather sewn together with sinew. His belt had a pouch sewn to it that contained a cache of useful items: a scraper, drill, flint flake, bone awl and a dried fungus.

Ötzi had over 50 ritual tattoos in the form of groups of lines and crosses on his body including a cruciform tattoo inside his right knee.

Other items found with the Iceman: the mysterious copper axe, a flint-bladed knife, and a quiver of 14 arrows. Two of the arrows, which were broken, were tipped with flint and had fletching (stabilizing fins), while the other 12 were unfinished and untipped.

The arrows were found in a quiver with what is presumed to be a bow string, an unidentified tool, and an antler tool which might have been used for sharpening arrow points. There was also an unfinished yew longbow that was 3 feet long.

In addition, among Ötzi's possessions were berries, two birch bark baskets, and two species of polypore mushrooms with leather strings through them. One of these, the birch fungus, is known to have antibacterial properties, and was likely used for medicinal purposes. The other was a type of tinder fungus, included with part of what appeared to be a complex fire-starting kit. The kit featured pieces of over a dozen different plants, in addition to flint and pyrite for creating sparks.

Ötzi's copper axe was of particular interest, as it is the only such complete prehistoric axe so far discovered. Today, Ötzi's axe remains as much of a mystery as the circumstances that brought about his death.

By dying in the Alps 5,000 years ago, he has provided the modern world with a unique view of Stone Age culture with an unprecedented wealth of scientific information and is regarded as something of a national treasure in Austria today.

[0] = Cited from Wikipedia's article on ancient Mesopotamia.

Wikipedia, Ötzi The Iceman
Wikipedia, Bronze Age Central Europe
National Geographic, The Iceman Final Hours
Time, The 33rd Century
Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, The Iceman, Iceman's DNA Revealed

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