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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Austrian Iceman

My day job is archaeology, which means I tend to think in layers and I love dirt—both real dirt as in soil, and “dirt” as in good stories about squabbling academics trying to steal each other’s research. Fortunately for me, the archaeological profession is full of multilayered, dirty stories, just like the strata of an excavation.

Take the Iceman, the mummified Neolithic man found in a melting glacier in the Tyrolean Alps. His story has at least three layers: his life in ancient times, his discovery about fifteen years ago, and the saga of the international investigation and border dispute over his body.

When Ötzi, as he is now known, was discovered, his finders thought he was just another dead hiker who’d strayed off the trail in bad weather. Granted, he was a bit leathery-looking, but the folks who ripped him out of the ice and hauled him away (leaving a couple of crucial body parts behind) hadn’t a clue they’d just found one of the most sensational archaeological discoveries of all time.

Ötzi was alive 5,000 years ago. Archaeologists have reconstructed his equipment: he carried a knapsack and a medicine bag, and wore an ingenious set of leggings and a warm, furry cloak. He also had a knife, bows and arrows, and a fire-making kit. But who was he? Where did he come from, and where was he going? Despite the best techniques known to science, many questions about Ötzi remained unanswered.

Archaeologists know the kind of settlement he came from, but not which one. They say that he was probably an important man in Neolithic society, but no one knows his name or family. And everyone thought he died in a blizzard until new imaging revealed an arrowhead in his shoulder—poor Ötzi was shot from behind. Then someone—the murderer?—removed the arrow, moved the body, and the evidence of the crime was covered up by 5,000 years of glaciers and silence.

The intrigue doesn’t stop there. Scientists and archaeologists from several countries collaborated in the modern studies of the Iceman’s tissues, tattoos, and diet. Did they all get along as well as the news media claimed? Or were some researchers angered as others published their findings in prestigious journals and appeared on Nova? And since the Iceman was found near the border between Austria and Italy, officials from both countries argued over who would ultimately own the mummy and build the museum to display him.

Italy won. Two years ago, I visited Ötzi in his new home in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano. He’s resting in a special climate-controlled case looking very small and lonely. Although the museum has done a great job of displaying the scientific and archaeological account of his death, a good mystery writer needs to tell the story of his life. Takers, anyone?


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  2. There is much debate on how the Iceman met his death.
    My theory is as follows.
    We are dealing with stone age man.
    Therefore we are not interested in money or goods to any extent.
    Food, shelter and females were the requirements of stone age man.
    As in Australian Aboriginal culture you may find that females were promised to elders of the tribe at birth and were delivered on reaching assumed maturity.
    Wifes were necessary to chew hides, cook, gather as well as adding sexual favours and children.
    This system favours old men and disadvantages younger men.
    Young men were taught to hunt by their fathers or other elders from a young age.
    It would be common for hunting parties to be more than one person but probably a two person party would hunt together in one area.
    Lets assume a party of two , a father and eldest son.
    The son is unhappy because the father has just taken a wife that the son fancied.
    The father would feel safe with his son and turn his back to him.
    If the son kills the father, then the son can claim his wife's.
    Of course there is the problem of explaining his father being missing.
    You can claim that you lost contact in a snow storm and were not able to locate him. What about the copper axe?
    Leave it there even though it had great value because to be seen with it would throw your explanation into doubt.
    As you know where the body is you can return later, find the body and claim the axe.
    What about the head being bashed in?
    It would be natural to spin around after pain in the back to locate the cause.
    The body could then fall backwards smashing the head on the rock.
    The body would be turned over to remove the arrow shaft..
    As for five different blood type being on the garments.
    I doubt that these people were fastidiously clean. Therefore these blood samples could have occurred over considerable time.
    The axe is the key. A raiding party would not have left it behind.
    As Cisero would have said Que Bono ( who benefits?)