Who killed Ötzi the Iceman, and why?
In September of 1991, a unique natural wet mummy was discovered in the Ötzal Alps, near Similaun mountain and Hauslabjoch on the border between Austria and Italy. At first, the mysterious mountain man and his remains came to be known as “the Iceman”, since he was found frozen in ice. However, because he was discovered in the Ötzal Alps he was named “Ötzi”. More importantly, since the mummy was found, the one-of-a-kind corpse has been extensively examined, measured, and dated by numerous scholars. For instance, an isotopic analysis was used on his teeth enamel to determine the geographic source of the water he drank when he was growing up as a child. This proved that he was born in the Vinschgau region, but he died much further north in the Southern Alps, as shown in the map below. Still, even after all these years, and everything that has come to be known, the true nature of his life and the precise circumstances of his death remain subjects of continued investigation and speculation. With that in mind, I would like to closely examine the coldest case in true crime history by describing the events that I think led up to Ötzi’s world-famous death and the subsequent discovery of the oldest intact body that has ever been found.
Based on the carbon dating of Ötzi’s mummy and his belongings, it appears that he was born in the year 3295 BCE. That is to say, the Iceman died in about 3250 BCE, and we know that he was 45, based on bone cell analysis. So, the approximate date of his birth is extrapolated from the assumption that those two pieces of data are more or less accurate. Thus, the period of prehistory in which the Iceman lived happened about 5,300 years ago, give or take a few decades. It’s also important to understand that this was a time of great transition for Ötzi and his people. It marked a pivotal moment in human evolution, particularly among Europeans. You see, although Ötzi was lactose intolerant, his village was just beginning to consume dairy products. Plus, the Copper Age that had begun in the Middle East finally made it to the West. So, Ötzi was the proud owner of a copper-bladed ax, at a time when stone and bone tools were still commonplace in the villages of the valleys. More importantly, he was a hunter in a world where everyone wanted to become farmers. So, maybe, his son or grandson went out hunting with him. Then again, maybe his fellow hunters were not related to him at all. They could have even wanted Ötzi to stop hunting, given how old he was.
In a seemingly unrelated event, about eighteen to twenty-four hours before he was killed, Ötzi was in a violent struggle that left him badly injured on his right wrist and hand. During the skirmish, he sustained a deep defensive wound that would have made him unable to use his right hand the next day. The evidence seems to suggest that Ötzi was attacked by at least four different men that fateful night. This is because there was fresh blood from someone other than him on his clothing. There was also blood from someone other than them on his knife. Plus, one of his arrows was stained with blood from two more people, other than them. Presumably, Ötzi was always able to hold his own in combat, but he was more of a hunter than a soldier. Modern standing armies did not yet exist in Europe, but Ötzi still knew how to fight like a champ. He must have been fearless to have taken down a bear, the hide of which he turned into the soles of his shoes and a fur cap. Ötzi was possibly even a man of reasonably high status in the community, with a good deal of personal wealth. However, when he was attacked, he wasn’t mugged, or so it would seem. In fact, I suspect he defeated his attackers single-handedly.
The following day, Ötzi went out with his hunting party, just like he always did. I don’t believe they were the same men who jumped him, although I do think the hunters wanted him dead. Presumably, the Iceman trusted the person or people he was with on the day he died, which is why they were able to shoot him in the back from just slightly downhill from where he was standing. Here’s how it all went down. The pollen found in Ötzi’s esophagus and intestines proves that he died either in late spring or early summer when plants release the microscopic grains into the air. Plus, certain trees only live at specific elevations, so hornbeam grows much lower than conifers, for instance. This is important to understand because the Iceman’s digestive tract contained different layers of pollen, which put him at different places over time leading up to his murder. About eleven hours before Otzi died, he woke up and ate primrose, legumes, and kingcup pollen among the trees of the deciduous forest of his valley village at an elevation of 5,000 feet. This was in his large intestine when he died. Five hours later, he ate red deer meat and leafy greens among pine and spruce trees, which was in his small intestine when he died. He was at an elevation of 7,000 feet, at that point. Another five hours later, Otzi ate ibex meat, with berries and herbs, at an elevation of 9,000 feet. In fact, his last meal was still in his stomach when he died all the way up at 11,000 feet, where the hunters had gone to survey the land around them.
The thing is that in prehistoric times people had shorter life expectancies, so a man about to turn 46 would have been considered elderly. To make matters worse, Ötzi had arthrosis and Lyme disease, both of which caused him a great deal of pain in the joints in his lower back, hips, knees, and ankles. Simply put, the Iceman suffered from strain-induced degeneration as a result of all the hiking and climbing that he did. He also had a number of broken bones. Still, although Ötzi was only 5'3" and 110 pounds, he managed to carry more than sixty pounds of gear into the Alps with him on a daily basis. He had a backpack and harness made of hazel and larch wood, and woven swamp grass. Ötzi also carried a quiver and arrows with an unstrung bow. Plus, he had two birch bark baskets and a hide sack. The Iceman even had a utility belt. The problem was that all the stuff that he needed to have with him to stay alive was very cumbersome, so the old man was in chronic pain and he moved rather slowly. That’s why medicine men were using tattoos on him as a form of ancient acupuncture. He has 19 clusters of tattoos made up of 61 different lines, on certain parts of his body. The marks were not meant to be symbolic or even decorative, they were entirely therapeutic. The plus sign on the back of his knee is a perfect example of this, as shown below. More importantly, I think this pain made him a liability, so the other hunters took it upon themselves to give him an early retirement.
Once Ötzi was shot in the back, he fell on a boulder, bashing his head on the immense rock in the process. Since the arrowhead pierced his shoulder blade and ruptured one of his subclavian arteries, he bled out very quickly, after having a hemorrhagic stroke. This means that, ultimately, Ötzi died in a matter of minutes from a combination of blood loss, blunt force trauma, and exposure to the cold. CAT scans clearly revealed blood on his brain as well as an arrowhead in his back. This was the smoking gun that explained how the Iceman died, but it didn’t explain why. To truly solve the murder mystery of the mountain man a motive must be established, which I think I have done rather well. Based on the fact that the victim was shot in the back by a bow and arrow, I think it’s safe to assume that he was shot by another hunter from his tribe. Plus, since the killer took their own arrow from the scene of the crime, but left all of Ötzi’s valuables, it seems likely that he was shot by someone he knew. Thus, the culprit couldn’t afford to be seen in the village with any of Ötzi’s personal possessions. This was important because the arrowhead in his back was typical of those from the southern part of the Alps where Ötzi lived, unlike the ones with a flat base from the north, which their enemies used. So, he was shot by a member of his own community, namely his fellow hunters. Of course, there’s no way to know what really happened, but I’m convinced that I finally know who did it and why.