The Iceman Reconsidered [Preview]

Where was the Iceman's home, and what was he doing at the high mountain pass where he died? Painstaking research--especially of plant remains found with the body--contradicts many of the initial speculations

In an unusual congenital anomaly, his 12th ribs are missing. His fifth to ninth left ribs had been broken and had healed in his lifetime. Numerous bone fractures and thoracic deformity are attributed by William A. Murphy, Jr., of the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas to glacial action and the rough recovery of the corpse. That these breakages occurred after death is among the considerable evidence that casts doubt on the early disaster theory. So does the finding that an area of missing scalp was caused by pressure, not by a blow or decay.

Holding aside the unanswered questions concerning tzis death and whether it was violent or not, several sound reasons suggest that he had not been in the best of health when he died. Although most of his epidermis (the outer layer of the skin), hair and fingernails are gone, probably having decayed as a result of exposure to water during occasional thaws, his remains still offer something of a health record for modern investigators. Examination of the only one of his fingernails to have been found revealed three Beaus lines, which develop when the nails stop growing and then start again. These lines show that he had been very ill three times in the last six months of his life and that the final episode, about two months before his death, was the most serious and lasted at least two weeks. Horst Aspöck of the University of Vienna found that he had an infestation of the intestinal parasite whipworm, which can cause debilitating diarrhea and even lead to dysentery, although we do not know how bad his infestation was.

Moreover, many simple, charcoal-dust tattoos are visible on the layer of skin under the missing epidermis. These marks were certainly not decorative and were probably therapeutic. Several are on or close to Chinese acupuncture points and at places where he could have suffered from arthritis--the lower spine, right knee and ankle. This coincidence has led to claims of treatment by acupuncture. Yet, according to Peter Vanezis, now at the Forensic Science Service in London, and Franco Tagliaro of the University of Verona, x-rays show little if any sign of arthritis.

The little toe of his left foot reveals evidence of frostbite. Ötzi's teeth are very worn, a reflection of his age and diet. Remains of two human fleas were found in his clothes. No lice were seen, but because his epidermis had been shed, any lice may have been lost.

What Was His Gear Like?
TURNING TO ÖTZI'S clothing and gear, scientists have learned not only about tzi himself but about the community in which he lived. The items are a testament to how intimately his people knew the rocks, fungi, plants and animals in their immediate surroundings. And we can see that they also knew how to obtain resources from farther afield, such as flint and copper ore. This knowledge ensured that Ötzi was extremely well equipped, each object fashioned from the material best suited to its purpose.

He had been warmly dressed in three layers of clothing--leggings, loincloth and jacket made of the hide of deer and goat, and a cape made of grass and bast, the long, tough fibers from the bark of the linden tree. His hat was bearskin, and his shoes, which were insulated with grass, had bearskin soles and goatskin uppers.

He had carried a copper ax and a dagger of flint from near Lake Garda, about 150 kilometers to the south. The handle of the dagger was ash wood, a material still used for handles today because it does not splinter easily. His unfinished longbow was carved from yew, the best wood for such a purpose because of its great tensile strength. The famous English longbows used to defeat the French at Agincourt some 4,000 years later were made of yew. A hide quiver contained 14 arrows, only two of which had feathers and flint arrowheads attached, but these two were broken. Thirteen of the arrow shafts were made of wayfaring tree, which produces long, straight, rigid stems of suitable diameter; one was partly of wayfaring tree and partly of dogwood.

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