Mountain climbing isn’t for the faint of heart, and any seasoned mountaineer will tell you to always expect the unexpected. A simple shift in the weather can prove disastrous for a hiker, and one misstep can mean the difference between making it home and ending up at the bottom of a chasm.
Still, as a pair of German hikers scaled the snowy slopes of the Alps, they were confident that this mountain, like the dozens they’d climbed before it, would hardly be a challenge. This time, however, the mountain had a surprise in store that spelled disaster for the unsuspecting couple…
On September 19th, 1991, German hikers Helmut and Erika Simon set off on an expedition through the snowcapped peaks of the Italian Alps. The Simons were looking to have an unforgettable experience, and by day’s end, the couple had gotten exactly what they’d hoped for — but for all the wrong reasons.
As they navigated the spectacular vistas of the region’s Otztal Alps, the Simons — encouraged by years of hiking experience — tackled some of the range’s more treacherous terrain. And so, the couple abandoned their pre-mapped route and began exploring off the beaten path.
Nearing the summit of a large mountain, the Simons noticed a strange-looking shape jutting out of the earth. The couple approached the object, and what they found there chilled them more than any snow ever could…
It was a human corpse! The Simons were understandably shaken by their discovery, which they believed to be the body of a fellow hiker that had met an unfortunate end. But when the couple contacted authorities, they soon learned there was a lot more to this body than they’d thought.
Just after the excavation team arrived a violent storm swept through the mountains, making the recovery of the body incredibly difficult. After three long days of on-and-off digging, rescue workers were finally able to unearth the frozen corpse.
News broke quickly of the daring mountainside recovery, with one Austrian reporter dubbing the deceased mountaineer “Otzi the Iceman” after the location in which he was found. But as authorities began to inspect the recovered body, they realized that Otzi was no ordinary hiker…
The Times of Israel
Otzi was quickly brought to the University of Innsbruck, where archaeologist Konrad Spindler examined his body and made a startling discovery. As it turns out, Otzi was actually an ancient mummy cadaver from the Bronze Age, making him an astonishing 5,300 years old!
Otzi’s body was incredibly well-preserved thanks to the wet mountain conditions. Not only did this enable scientists to run an advanced test on the remains, but it also allowed them to create a 3D reconstruction of what Otzi might’ve looked like.
Bonnie Brennan / Smithsonian Mag
According to the data taken from his body, Otzi stood 5’5″, weighed 84 pounds, and was 45 years of age at the time of his death. Scientists also deduced that Otzi had brown eyes, a thick beard, and generally maintained an overall haggard appearance. But the revelations about Otzi weren’t solely cosmetic.
Mother Nature Network
From the 30 different pollen samples taken from Otzi’s stomach, scientists determined that the iceman had perished sometime in the spring or summer. This information, coupled with the fact that Otzi had eaten an ibex a mere two hours before his death, allowed scientists to trace his travels through the region as well as understand some of the diseases he suffered from during his lifetime.
Even after thousands of years in the snow, tests on the body revealed that Otzi had been plagued with a myriad of ailments, including whipworm, cardiovascular disease, and lactose intolerance. Otzi also suffered from the earliest-known case of Lyme’s Disease, though this wouldn’t be the iceman’s only historical first…
Der Mann aus dem Eis
Thanks to the incredible condition of his skin, scientists were able to identify a number of markings on Otzi’s body as primitive tattoos, which were likely used to mark acupuncture points. Not only did this make Otzi the oldest tattooed mummy to date, but it also indicated that acupuncture was practiced 2,000 years before first believed.
Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson
Despite this wealth of information derived from Otzi’s body, it took a full decade before the mystery surrounding the iceman’s death was solved. Though scientists originally believed he had died from exposure, new studies conducted in 2001 revealed a grisly truth behind Otzi’s untimely demise…
Using advanced x-ray technology, scientists discovered an arrowhead lodged in Otzi’s left shoulder. Given the location of the shot, the arrow would’ve pierced a vital artery, likely causing Otzi to bleed to death. It wasn’t a snowstorm that killed Otzi: he was murdered!
Questions swirled about this newfound revelation, with scientists scrambling to find a motivation for the murder of the iceman. One theory suggested that Otzi had been shot while raiding a rival tribe, while another claimed that Otzi had been the victim of ritual sacrifice. Ultimately, though, the items found alongside Otzi’s body provided the biggest insight into his death.
The iceman was discovered with a number of valuables in his possession, including tools, furs, and a copper axe. Seeing that the killer had simply left these items alongside the body, scientists deduced that the killing was likely of a personal nature. Otzi’s murder was solved, but one final realization about the mummy proved deadly for all those involved.
In 2004, 13 years after he and Erika first discovered Otzi, Helmut Simon died in a freak accident during a trek through the Austrian Alps. Not long after, Konrad Spindler, the archaeologist that first examined Otzi, also perished under mysterious circumstances. Fueled by these unexplained deaths, rumors began to circulate that, like the ancient pharaohs of Egypt, the iceman was cursed.
Speculation about the curse only increased when one of the Alpine guides that excavated Otzi was killed in an avalanche, and a forensic expert that once touched Otzi’s body died in a car accident. To this day, seven deaths have been attributed to the curse of Otzi.
Those looking to experience the wonder of Otzi firsthand – and potentially invite a curse or two – could visit the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy, where he stood on display. A memorial was also constructed at the site of Otzi’s discovery to commemorate the historic find.
Viennaweekends / WordPress
Though Otzi’s story may be a long and controversial one, there’s no denying his importance to the archaeological community. As scientists continue to peel back the layers of the iceman’s past, hopefully, we too will learn more about the secrets of our history.
Isn’t it incredible how one discovery can have such a massive impact on our world?
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