60-Second Science

Famous Iceman Mummy Cause of Death Identified

Five thousand years after his death, Otzi the Iceman's demise is explained by CT scans.

Talk about a cold case.  Researchers in Italy and Switzerland have announced that they have determined the cause of death for the Iceman.  He’s that incredibly well preserved frozen mummy that was found sticking out of a glacier in the Alps near the Italy-Austria border, about 10,000 feet up, back in 1991.   He’d been lying there for about 5,000 years. 

In 2005, the mummy, sometimes referred to as Frozen Fritz, was subjected to noninvasive multislice computed tomography, often called a CT scan.  In a paper published this week in the Journal of Archaeological Science, the scan found a lesion in the left subclavian artery.  That’s the big blood vessel underneath the clavicle, or collarbone.  The lesion was apparently cause by an arrowhead that’s still lodged in the Iceman’s back.  A large hemotoma extends into the surrounding tissue.  Modern records of such injuries indicate that the Iceman survived for only a short time after suffering this injury.  There’s no statute of limitation on murder, and his killers are still at large.  Global warming may yet reveal the perpetrators, should a dying glacier set them free.    

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