News World Solved! The very, very cold case of Otzi the Iceman

Solved! The very, very cold case of Otzi the Iceman

The mummy of a prehistorical hunter known as Otzi was discovered in 1991 by hikers in the Alps. Photo: AP
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For 25 years, he’s been playing the victim. Poor old Otzi the Iceman. Minding his own business, having a quiet dinner in the Tyrolean mountains when – THWACK!!! – an arrow out of nowhere entered his armpit. The dirty doer shot him from behind. As blood poured from a severed artery, the lovely view of the countryside went dim.

The glacial ice gathered about him like a blanket. And there he lay, lonely, for centuries until a couple of German hikers tripped over his exposed shoulder. That was in 1991. It’s been boo-hoo for Otzi ever since.

But only now has the evidence been sifted for that most basic of murder-story elements: what was the motive? It wasn’t robbery. His backpack of possessions remained untouched. Could Otzi somehow have brought the big sleep upon himself? Seems so.

Angelika Fleckinger is director of the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, in Bolzano, Italy. For reasons that haven’t been made clear, she contacted a Munich homicide detective, Alexander Horn, and asked if he’d take on Otzi as a cold case.

Detective Inspector Horn figured a 5000-year-old corpse’s secrets had turned to sludge. He was wrong. Otzi was about the size of Miley Cyrus (165cm, 49kg), around 45 years old, had good legs from walking the mountains – and little upper body development, suggesting he didn’t work hard for a living.

A reconstruction of Otzi the Iceman. Photo: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology

The lab coat boys fixed the time of death at late spring or early summer (by examining the pollen found in his digestive tract). They also found he had eaten three times in two days. During that time, he’d walked to the valley floor from an elevation of about 2000 metres. He then returned to the mountains, to where he was killed at 3200 metres.

As for wounds to his body, the focus had been on the arrowhead – shot from 30 metres, and almost instantly lethal – and a head wound from falling over or a malicious thumping. Everybody’s read that stuff.

What got overlooked was a deep defensive wound to Otzi’s hand, between thumb and finger – from a sword or knife. A serious defensive wound, down to the bone. More to the point, the Iceman had been nursing it for one or two days. For Detective Inspector Horn, this was the evidence that turned Otzi from a poor sap, caught out in the open by persons unknown to him, to a probable killer on the run, done in by vengeance.

Detective Inspector Horn speculates that Otzi, on his walk to the valley floor, became involved in a violent fight. Given that he only suffered a single wound – serious and probably disabling – he concludes that Otzi prevailed by killing the other person.

As Detective Inspector Horn told The New York Times: “It was a very active defensive wound, and interesting in the context that no other injuries are found on the body, no major bruises or stab wounds, so probably he was the winner of that fight, even possibly he killed the person who tried to attack him.”

Last year scientists managed to recreate a close approximation of Otzi’s voice by recreating his vocal tract and chords. For a little guy he had a pretty deep voice. But guess what? With all the world wanting to know what happened, the Iceman ain’t talking.

Listen to the Iceman’s voice below:

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