Revisiting Otzi

The mummy was named after the Otzal Alps. Image: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology

The exhibition “20 years from Ötzi’s recovery” will be extended until 2013.

Named after the Ötztal Alps, where he was found, Ötzi the Iceman is Europe’s oldest natural human mummy. The glacier mummy has been reconstructed based on data obtained from CT scans, X-rays and DNA analyses. Ötzi died in a high mountain pass in Italy and was covered by ice and snow. He was buried for millennia until two German hikers found him in 1991.

Twenty years later, two Dutch reconstruction experts, Adrie and Alfons Kennis, have reconstructed him based on examinations of the body and knowledge of what the faces, hands and skin of modern-day people who live mostly outdoors look like. DNA analyses revealed that Ötzi’s eyes were not blue, as previously thought, but brown. The researchers also determined his dark-brown hair colour by examining preserved hairs found on his body.

One of the Dutch reconstruction experts working on Otzi's model. Image: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology

Ötzi was about 46 years old when he died after being wounded in the shoulder by an arrow. There are several theories about the circumstances of his death. One is that he was being chased by enemies and was shot with an arrow from behind, at which point he collapsed and bled to death. Another theory suggests that he was taken to the pass after his death to be buried. There is a stone platform 18 metres away from where the body was found, which could have been used for a burial ceremony. Luca Bondioli of the National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography in Rome has proposed that warming and freezing cycles could have moved the body downhill from its original burial site. Supporters of this theory also believe that if Ötzi was carried up to the pass from the lowlands for burial, he may have been an important, high-ranking member of his society.

Given that the circumstances of his death were violent, the reconstruction experts wanted to imbue the model with a haunted, insecure expression instead of portraying Ötzi as a competent, superior mountain wanderer. To show how muscular he was, they also chose to portray him bare-chested, though in reality he was dressed for the harsh weather of the Alps when he died, wearing animal hide and an insulating grass cape.

The glacier mummy is now on display at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology; the four floors of the Roman museum are devoted to Ötzi.

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