Ötzi – the cursed mummy of ‘Tyrolean Iceman from Hauslabjoch’

Ötzi, also known as the “Tyrolean Iceman from Hauslabjoch” is the well-preserved natural mummy of a person who lived around 3,300 BCE. The mummy was observed in September 1991 in the ötztal alps — that’s how it got its nickname “Ötzi” — near Similaun mountain and Hauslabjoch at the border between Austria and Italy.

Ötzi the Iceman
Ötzi the Iceman © iceman.it

Ötzi is Europe’s oldest recognized natural human mummy and has offered an extraordinary view of Chalcolithic Europeans. His body and property are displayed in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology located in Bolzano, South Tyrol, Italy.

Discovery of Ötzi – the Tyrolean Iceman

On September 19, 1991, two German vacationers, Helmut and Erika Simon discovered the mummy of Ötzi at an elevation of 3,210 metres on the east ridge of the Fineilspitze within the Ötztal Alps at the Austrian–Italian border.

The travellers, Helmut and Erika, were on foot off the course among the mountain passes Hauslabjoch and Tisenjoch. They, at first, thought that the body belongs to a lately deceased mountaineer but after conducting an in-depth examination, researchers suggested it to be “about four thousand years old.” They confirmed their claim from the type of an awl and a number of objects retrieved from the corpse.

Ötzi’s appearance and physical conditions

Further studies convey, at the time of his dying, Ötzi was about 5ft 5in tall, weighed about 61 kilograms and about forty-five years old. While his body was discovered, it weighed 13.750 kilograms. Due to the fact the body was covered in ice immediately after his death, it had only partially deteriorated.

Ötzi 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.

Other items found with the Iceman were a copper axe with a yew handle, a chert-bladed knife with an ash handle and a quiver of 14 arrows with viburnum and dogwood shafts.

DNA analysis revealed Ötzi used to eat meat, herb bread, roots and fruits. Remains of chaff and grains of einkorn and barley, and seeds of flax and poppy, as well as kernels of sloes and various seeds of berries growing in the wild, were also discovered from his digestive system.

Using modern 3D scanning technology, a facial reconstruction has been created for the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy. It shows Ötzi looking old for his 45 years, with deep-set brown eyes, a beard, a furrowed face, and sunken cheeks. He is depicted as looking tired and ungroomed.

Ötzi the Iceman
Archeoparc Museum, South Tyrol: Reconstruction of the neolithic clothes worn by Ötzi (Left). Ötzi’s copper axe, tools and equipment (Middle). Naturalistic reconstruction of Ötzi – South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology (Right).

Ötzi had a total of 61 tattoos, consisting of 19 groups of black lines ranging from 1 to 3 mm in thickness and 7 to 40 mm long. These include groups of parallel lines running along the longitudinal axis of his body and to both sides of the lumbar spine, as well as a cruciform mark behind the right knee and on the right ankle, and parallel lines around the left wrist.

Radiological examination of Ötzi’s bones showed “age-conditioned or strain-induced degeneration” corresponding to many tattooed areas, including osteochondrosis and slight spondylosis in the lumbar spine and wear-and-tear degeneration in the knee and especially in the ankle joints.

It has been speculated that these tattoos may have been related to pain relief treatments similar to acupressure or acupuncture. If so, this is at least 2,000 years before their previously known earliest use in China, around 1,000 BCE. Recent research into archaeological evidence for ancient tattooing has confirmed that Ötzi is the oldest tattooed human mummy yet discovered.

A 2012 paper by paleoanthropologist John Hawks suggests that Ötzi had a higher degree of Neanderthal ancestry than modern Europeans.

In October 2013, it was reported that 19 modern Tyrolean men were descendants of Ötzi or of a close relative of Ötzi. Scientists from the Institute of Legal Medicine at Innsbruck Medical University had analyzed the DNA of over 3,700 Tyrolean male blood donors and found 19 who shared a particular genetic mutation with the 5,300-year-old man.

How had Ötzi died?

It was initially believed that Ötzi died from exposure during a winter storm. Later it was speculated that Ötzi might have been a victim of a ritual sacrifice, perhaps for being a chieftain. In 2001, X-rays and CT scan tests revealed that ötzi had an arrowhead lodged in his left shoulder when he died, and an identical small tear on his coat. This find induced researchers to theorize Ötzi died of blood loss from the wound.

Researchers further found that the arrow’s shaft had been pulled out of Ötzi’s body earlier than his death, and close examination of the body found bruises and cuts to the hands, wrists and chest and cerebral trauma indicative of a blow to the head.

Current DNA analyses claim to have discovered lines of blood from at least four other people on his tools: one from his knife, two from a single arrowhead, and the rest one from his coat. Interpretations of those findings are that Ötzi killed two people with the same arrow and was able to retrieve it on both occasions, and the blood on his coat was from a wounded comrade he may have carried over his lower back.

Five surprising facts about Ötzi – the Iceman

1 | The Iceman has living relatives

Living links to the Tyrolean Iceman have now been revealed by a new DNA study. Gene researchers have uncovered at least 19 genetic relatives of Ötzi in Austria’s Tyrol region.

The match was made from samples of 3,700 anonymous blood donors in a study led by Walther Parson at Innsbruck Medical University.

2 | Ötzi had several health issues

Various examinations and tests suggest the 40-something’s list of complaints include worn joints, hardened arteries, gallstones, and a nasty growth on Ötzi’s little toe.

Furthermore, the Iceman’s gut contained the eggs of parasitic worms, he likely had Lyme disease, and he had high levels of arsenic in his system. Apart from these, an in-depth dental examination found evidence of advanced gum disease and tooth decay.

DNA analysis in February 2012 revealed that Ötzi was lactose intolerant, supporting the theory that lactose intolerance was still common at that time, despite the increasing spread of agriculture and dairying.

3 | The mountain man also had anatomical abnormalities

Besides his physical ailments, the Iceman had several anatomical abnormalities. He lacked both wisdom teeth and the 12th pair of ribs. There was also a caddish gap between his two front teeth, known as a diastema.

4 | The Iceman got inked

Ötzi’s frozen mummy preserves a fine collection of Copper Age tattoos. Numbering over 60 in total, they cover him from head to foot. These weren’t produced using a needle, but by making fine cuts in the skin and then rubbing in charcoal. The tattoos’ locations on his body have led some researchers to believe that the tattoos marked acupuncture points to treat his bad health.

If so, the oldest evidence for acupuncture, Ötzi’s tattoos suggest that the practice was around at least 2,000 years earlier than previously thought.

5 | He consumed pollen and goats

The Iceman’s stomach contained 30 different types of pollen. Analysis of that pollen shows that Ötzi died in spring or early summer, and it has even enabled researchers to trace his movements through different mountain elevations just before he died.

His partially digested last meal suggests he ate two hours before his grisly end. It included grains and meat from an ibex, a species of nimble-footed wild goat.

The curse of Ötzi

Influenced by the “Curse of the pharaohs” and the media theme of cursed mummies, claims have been made that Ötzi is cursed.

Rainer Henn had the honour of placing Ötzi’s frozen remains into a body bag. In 1992, Rainer was travelling to a convention where he planned to talk about Ötzi. Tragically, he got into a deadly accident and never reached his destination. This happened one year after Ötzi was uncovered, making Rainer the first potential victim of the Iceman’s curse.

Kurt Fritz took his place in history by leading researchers to Ötzi’s body. An avalanche ended up claiming his life in 1993 when he was 52. Fritz was the only member of his expedition group who died during the avalanche.

Helmut Simon and his wife, Erika, discovered Ötzi. Unfortunately, in October 2004, Helmut Simon who was an experienced hiker disappeared in the Alps. Due to snowy conditions, it took searchers eight days to discover his body. Simon had fallen more than 300 feet to his death.

When Helmut Simon disappeared in the Alps in 2004, Dieter Warnecke led a search team. They ultimately recovered Simon’s body eight days after he went missing. Mere hours after Simon’s funeral, the 45-year-old Warnecke had a heart attack and died.

The world’s leading expert on Ötzi, Konrad Spindler, didn’t believe in the curse. He even joked about it during an interview, saying, “I think it’s a load of rubbish. It is all a media hype. The next thing you will be saying I will be next.” Indeed, Spindler was the next person associated with Ötzi to die. He passed in 2005 due to complications from multiple sclerosis.

Rainer Hölz was the only person allowed to film the recovery of Ötzi’s body, and he later turned his footage into an hour-long documentary. Hölz died from a brain tumour shortly after finishing the film.

Tom Loy was the first researcher to discover extremely important evidence on Ötzi’s clothing. His findings indicated that the Iceman had died during a violent conflict, due to the presence of multiple types of blood on the fabric and tools. Ironically, Loy ultimately died due to a hereditary blood disease – one that wasn’t diagnosed until after Loy began studying Ötzi’s remains.

Final words

As of 2017, seven deaths have been linked to the discovery of Ötzi. It seems like a high number, until you consider the hundreds of people who have been involved with Ötzi research projects over the years. Everyone from reconstruction artists and DNA experts to the museum’s ticket booth salespeople has a connection to the ancient Iceman. In other words, if there really is a curse, there should be many more deaths.

Perhaps Ötzi only went after individuals related to the original discovery of his body. Or perhaps these tragedies are nothing more than deeply unfortunate coincidences.