Was Ancient Alpine "Iceman" Killed in Battle?

Sarah Ives
for National Geographic News
October 30, 2003

In 1991, two Germans hiking in the Alps of northern Italy discovered the 5,200-year-old remains of a Copper Age man frozen in a glacier. The well-preserved corpse, dubbed "Ötzi the Iceman," was found with tools, arrows, and a knife.

Since then, scientists have speculated about how the 46-year-old male died, offering scenarios from hypothermia to ritual sacrifice.

Now a team of researchers has added another theory to the mix, suggesting that the Iceman died in battle.

Thomas Loy, an archaeologist at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, led the team that studied DNA samples gathered from the Iceman's weapons, tools, and clothing. Loy and his colleagues found that the samples contained blood from four individuals.

Blood on an arrow found with the Iceman came from two individuals. Blood on a knife blade carried by the Iceman belonged to a third individual. Loy also discovered blood from a fourth individual on the left side of the Iceman's goatskin coat. Loy says this suggests that the Iceman may have had an injured companion that he helped carry for some distance.

Using the information gathered from their DNA analysis together with forensic data on the wounds found on the Iceman's body, the researchers reconstructed Ötzi's final moments.

The Battle

Loy believes that the Iceman died in a boundary dispute with several individuals and that the Copper Age male received his first wound as early as 48 hours before his death.

According to Loy, the Iceman shot two different people with his arrow, each time managing to retrieve the arrow from his victim. The Iceman's success, however, was short-lived. He missed his last target, shattering his arrowshaft.

"He was attempting, before he died, to take apart the arrowhead from the broken arrowshaft and make one useable arrow," Loy wrote via e-mail.

The Iceman died before he could fix his weapon. He was shot in the back with an arrow and was also badly cut on one hand. Loy's reconstruction suggests the Iceman stacked his gear carefully on a nearby ledge, slumped over a rock, and died.

An Unlikely Scenario?

Continued on Next Page >>


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