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The Significance of the discovery of the Iceman

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The Iceman was discovered on the 19th September 1991 by a German couple, Helmut and Erika Simons, who were hiking near the Austrian and Italian border in the Alps. They both had wandered slightly off trail when Erika spotted a head and shoulders sticking out of the ice, she first thought it was a discarded doll, but it was later found out to be an ancient traveler now known as the Iceman. The Iceman was quickly named Otzi, after the valley Otzhal that was north of his death site. At one glance, there really wasn’t anything that special about Otzi, the significance of him was that he had become the oldest, most prehistoric and well preserved mummy in the world, not since Tutankhamen had anything stunned the world this much.

After the discovery of Otzi, many questions started arising, the main focus question was- Why else was the Iceman such a significant discovery? Many issues also came up; some issues to be discussed include the ethical issues, scientific issues, and heritage issues. The discovery was overwhelming to the scientific world and the people in the world, there were many theories and speculations to what might have happened to ice man in the last few moments of his life, theories on how old he was and who he was.

From the time of discovery to the time of examination, a lot had happened to Otzi’s equipment, many people who had tried to rescue Otzi out of his icy grave, had just grabbed any nearby objects and dug at the ice, this caused a few of the artifacts to break, his 1.8 m long bow was broken, and the frame of his backpack was used as a stick and was also broken. After all the trials and errors of everyone, the Iceman was finally taken out of the ice by a pneumatic chisel which operated by using compressed air. When Otzi was finally taken out, in an effort to put him into his coffin to send him to Innsbruck, his left arm was broken. Once he arrived at Innsbruck, the media also arrived; everyone wanted a piece of the iceman. The flashes, combined with exposure to air, had caused a type of fungus to start growing on Otzi’s skin. Scientists reacted very quickly to this, they couldn’t let this happen to something that important, and so they put him into a freezer to freeze the fungus from spreading and to kill the fungus.

The first question to be answered was how old was this man, the first guess from anyone, was that he might have been a hiker who got lost around 6 months ago and died in the ice, then the ages started to go older, some suggested he was 500 years old, then 3000 years old, it wasn’t until people found the artifacts that they realized this frozen, mummified corpse was around 5000 years old. Scientists first examined the Axe they found near Otzi, and confirmed it was a Bronze Axe, which would mean he lived during the Bronze Age. Afterwards, combined with the information from the artifacts, scientists used Carbon dating to prove that he was 5300 years old and also proved that the age he had died was around 40 years old and Otzi stood 5’1 ½ tall (158cm).

There were many theories to who this man was and what happened to him, the first theory was that Otzi was a shepherd, this was because of his strong physique, and the first signs of wear had begun to appear in his joints. Another interesting find on Otzi, was that he had some sort of black markings or lines on his brown leathery skin, they seemed to be tattoos, people even suggested that maybe Otzi knew enough about herbal medicines to do acupuncture to try and heal his joints. His equipment also would have enabled him to survive for a few months in these harsh weathers. His axe would have enabled him to defend himself from wild animals or other hunters. The route he was traveling in was the route in which Shepherds took their sheep through. Otzi’s clothing was also perfectly suited to the climate and cold weather in the mountains.

He wore leggings which were tapered downwards, loincloth which was worn over his belt and leggings, a fur cap, a thick upper garment, shoes that were remarkably sophisticated & similar to what we wear today and a coat which was plaited with grass. He also stuffed grass into his boots to keep himself warm. Konrad Spindler was the one who suggested that theory, he also suggested that the cause of death was a natural disaster, Otzi had laid out his belongings into separate places, and then he had rested, and never woke ever again. It was assumed that while he was resting, a sudden storm had come and he had died of hypothermia which is said to be a painless death, then shortly after his death, the glacier had collapsed on top of him, Otzi was a “victim of the weather” (Spindler), which also was the probably the reason why his body and equipment was still so well preserved, and why it remained ‘untouched’ throughout the years.

Otzi was assumed to have died in autumn because that was when the shepherds would take their flocks of sheep up into the Alps, and they had used a microscopic analysis to find out what he had eaten, Otzi’s last meal had consisted of dried wheat, bread, and some meat, what was surprising, was that was also traces of pollen in the food. The pollen was acted as a “Fingerprint for each season” (Spindler), because flowers and plants usually pollinated in autumn. After looking at what Otzi’s diet had been, the scientists looked inside Otzi using X-Rays and Cat Scans; they saw that Otzi’s ribs were severely distorted, so Spindler came up with the ‘disaster theory’. In which Otzi was believed to be a shepherd who came back to his village in autumn and somehow got into a quarrel or heated argument. He had gotten injured in the ribs but somehow managed to escape into the mountains, when he made it up to the top, he was over exhausted and lay down to rest, subsequently, he had died of hypothermia and then the ice tumbled down onto him and buried him into his icy grave.

Another important question that had arisen from the discovery was the concern of who Otzi belonged to. Since Otzi was found 96metres inside the Italian border, he technically belonged to the Italians. Later on, the Australian and Italian authorities agreed to transfer Otzi back to Italy on September 1994 despite that this was 3 years after the discovery of the Ice man. Many people had talked about who Otzi truly ‘belonged’ to, the Italians, the Austrians, or the Scientific World?

In September 1998, when Otzi was back in Italy, Peter Vanezies had reopened the case, he wanted to examine the Iceman, and furthermore, find out more about this strange mysterious man who died alone in the Alps. When Vanezies examined Otzi, he remarkably still looked like a corpse who had died no more than 1 year ago, they re-examined Otzi’s food again, and this time, Vanezies had found traces of pollen again, but this time, they knew which tree the pollen was from, it was from a hop-hornbeam tree which only pollinates during March to June. This was a remarkable find, especially when Otzi was believed to have died in autumn, now, that one small change had made everything different, now Otzi had died in spring and not autumn like everyone first believed. There was further examination to the belongings of Otzi; the Italians had found that Otzi had 14 full length arrows, in which one was broken in half. Half of the arrow was found 4m away from the other 13 arrows, which therefore suggested that Otzi might have moved from where he originally died.

This theory was also supported by the fact that Otzi had a large wound at the back of his head and his back had marks which showed that there had been pressure applied to it, but when Otzi was first found, he had been found lying face down in the ice. After many thoughts on what might have happened, the final assumption was that the water had made Otzi and his belongings drift somewhere else, away from his original death site. After examination on Otzi’s tools, the Italians realized the ‘bronze’ axe wasn’t made out of bronze at all, but it was made out of copper. This was a major find once again, this showed that Otzi had lived during the end of the Stone Age and beginning of the copper age, it showed many scientists how the Neolithic Aged people lived, what they wore, and how they looked like. The new theory that was proposed was exactly opposite to Spindler’s theory, including the confirmation they made that said Otzi’s ribs were bent out of place because of a violent situation prior to his death, no one had hit him for it to be like that, it was the pressure from the ice that caused Otzi’s ribs to be that severely distorted.

Otzi’s death was now a mystery all over again, Spindler’s theory had been knocked off the picture and now, no one had suggested a suitable theory that fitted in to the evidence. It didn’t stay that way for long. Vanezies later conducted a reconstruction of Otzi’s face to be put on display in the Tyrol museum, he did this by using the 3D CAT scan data and a rapid prototyping machine, the Australian team created a life sized replica of Otzi’s skull and sent it in to Vanezies who then used a laser to scan the skull into a facial reconstructing system. That measured the proportions of the skull and in turn, shapes a generic face to match the skull. Now, we finally could see what Otzi had looked like during the time he lived.

In September 2001, the case was reopened yet once again, the Italians had decided to X-ray it again to see if there were any clues that other scientists might have overlooked. A local hospital radiologist, Paul Gosner had X-rayed the body using a sophisticated X-ray technique called Computerized Tomography, and he found something that surprised him and would soon surprise the rest of the scientific world. It was amazing that no one else had found it before, even during the 10 years of extensive researching. Located near Otzi’s shoulder, was a foreign body. Gosner used a cat scan on Otzi again to determine the density of the object, the object was denser than bone, and it was later confirmed that the object was similar to flint, it was a stone arrowhead. Now, there was a whole different new theory that fitted to what had happened to Otzi. Otzi was now believed to have been attacked and when he had tried to run, he had been shot by an arrow but he still managed to escape high up into the mountains.

He had pulled out the arrow shaft, but didn’t manage to pull out the arrow head, so the arrow head was still stuck inside his shoulder. When Otzi had finally reached the top of the mountains, he was over exhausted, tired, shocked, and was losing far too much blood. So eventually he died a slow and painful death, all alone in the mountains, this theory was far more dramatic than the original one but seemed more believable. The arrow seemed to have contributed to Otzi’s death. This speculation was backed up by the fact that when they examined his back, they saw the wound in which the arrow had pierced his flesh. There was a brown shadow around the wound, which indicated that the arrow had hit a place full of arteries, although we may never know if the arrow was the culprit to his death, we do know that it did caused a lot of damage and would have contributed greatly to his death.

Otzi had indeed been a great discovery in the 20th Century; Otzi had provided a very clear view to what life was like in the prehistoric age. Prior to his death, no one had known what Late Stone Aged/Neolithic people looked like, what they wore or how they lived, Otzi had provided a lot of key information to the world about the history of itself. Due to the fact that Otzi is so well preserved (his eyeballs are still intact inside his eye sockets), Otzi is now kept in a computer refrigerated stainless steel container which is kept constantly under minus six degrees so that he would be able to last forever and so that in the future, other scientists can examine Otzi and see what surprises Otzi has in store for the world, and maybe find out more about this 5300 year old man who would forever stay immortal.

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