Otzi: The Iceman


Otzi, also known as Oetsi, Similaun Man, The Man from Hauslabjoch and Frozen Fritz, was discovered in 1991 frozen in a glacier near the border between Austria and Italy. This accidental discovery gave mankind a brief glimpse into the habits of Chalcolithic Europeans, the peoples of the Copper Age.


Otzi was discovered by Helmut and Erika Simon, German tourists, who reported the discovery to the local authorities. The body, which was originally thought to be a modern corpse, was recovered by Austrian authorities and was later determined to be far older then they thought.

The Body of the Iceman

Otzi’s body was naturally preserved in the glacial ice and it is estimated that he lived around 3300 BC, making him one of the oldest known human mummies ever found. He was between 30 and 45 years old when he died and roughly 5 foot 3 inches tall. Fifty-seven tattoos covered his body, many of which were either on or near what are known today to be acupuncture points. This fact has led some to speculate that the tattoos were used to treat symptoms of diseases that may have plagued Otzi during his life, things such as digestive parasites and osteoarthrosis.

Objects found with the Iceman

The clothing that Otzi was found wearing was quite sophisticated and included a woven grass cloak and a leather vest. The shoes that he wore were water proof and designed so that they were much wider than his foot, likely aiding with walking through the snow much like snowshoes. Among the possessions found with the Iceman were a copper axe with a yew handle, a flint knife with an ash handle, a quiver full of arrows with vilburnum and dogwood shafts and flint heads and an unfinished yew bow.

What Killed the Iceman

After the discovery of the Iceman’s body many theories were put forward as to what had killed him. It was initially surmised that the unfortunate man had likely been caught in a heavy snowfall and frozen to death. It was also thought that he must have been covered over by snow almost immediately because there were no signs that the body had been preyed upon. Early x-rays of the body showed that Otzi had broken ribs on his right side and lead to speculation that he had been injured in a fight or a fall before his death. Both of these theories were dismissed, however, after later x-rays were taken and revealed an arrowhead buried in his left shoulder and no sign of fractured ribs.

It is now believed that Otzi was the victim of a homicide. Everything from theft to finding another man with his wife to being involved in a brawl has been suggested as events that lead to his death but there is no proof to back up any of these theories and it is unlikely that anyone will ever know for sure why the Iceman was killed.

Otzi’s body is currently housed at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bozen-Bolzano, Italy and continues to give scientists a window to peer through into humanities past in the area.