In 1991 a body was discovered by hikers in the Tyrolean Alps, specifically the Ötztal Alps, hence the nickname he was given – Ötzi. At first thought to be a recent mountaineering victim, it quickly became clear he was much older than any other body found in the mountains.
Ötzi is special not only because he was preserved in the ice for 5300 years, along with his clothing and equipment, but also due to his accidental death. Unlike most human remains archaeologists excavate, Ötzi was not buried by someone after death with carefully selected items that may have said more about the living relatives and friends than the deceased. Because he died from arrow wounds far away from anyone else and his body never retrieved and buried, Ötzi had the clothing and objects that he had used in life with him.
We’ll proceed from the inner layers outwards. Ötzi was wearing a leather belt around his waist, which supported a pair of chaps/leggings suspended from the belt by leather loops on the outer thigh and a long loin cloth of leather tucked under the belt at back and front. Ötzi then wore a long leather tunic over this. He had a coat made of strips of goatskin with the fur still on from several different animals with short sleeves. The leather he wore was variously goat or sheepskin.
His shoes were made of a sole of bearskin with an upper of deer fur, and dried grass was stuffed around the foot as a sock. There is debate about whether a grass mesh that was found went under or over the shoe. James Dilley of Ancient Craft opted for the latter: http://www.ancientcraft.co.uk/Projects/otzi_shoe/shoe.html (Groenman-van Waateringe). These shoes seem, like the majority of Ötzi’s clothing, to have been specifically for spending time in the mountains. There was a leather strap under the shoe that might have helped with grip. The object originally interpreted as a frame for a backpack might have actually been a frame for a snowshoe attached to these shoes (Spindler 1993; Wood 2005).
Ötzi also had a hat made of bearskin. Over the top of the whole thing he famously wore a twined grass cloak. This may have doubled as a sleeping mat to insulate him from the cold of the ground if sleeping in the mountains, as well as being a good defence against rain. It was made by twining grass strands around bunches of long dried grass and had a drawstring at the top to bring them together. This cloak would have been worn off one shoulder due to its design and he may have worn a smaller grass cape to cover the exposed shoulder (Wood 2004).
Ötzi had 61 tattoos in total, including lines on his wrist and back, circles on his ankle and a cross on his knee. These were probably made by using a bone or metal pin to open the skin, and then rubbing charcoal in the wound to make them black. It has been shown by x-ray that the tattoos are close to areas of osteoarthritis and so the thought is that the tattoos were a form of medicinal intervention, like modern acupuncture (Samadelli et al 2015). Although the epidermis had decayed, hairs from the region of Ötzi’s chin and head were retrieved. The ones from the chin were thicker than the others, and indicative of a beard. The hairs from his head were 9cm long and as they were found loose, it was thought he did not have his hair in a pony tail or plait (Spindler 1993, 161-2). He has been estimated to have been 158cm tall and weighing 61kg, quite a healthy weight (Ruff et al 2006).
What I also find fascinating are the little personal possessions he carried, such as two fungi, birch polypores, on thongs. In later centuries this practice continued as a superstitious practice aiming to ward off ill health, such as the cramp ball at the Pitt Rivers Museum used against cramps in Sussex in the early 20th century (also see Poder, R 2005). Ötzi also carried a birch bark container lined with sycamore leaves to hold an ember, but also had a pouch which contained flint, tinder fungus and flecks of pyrite from a fire-lighting kit. He had a flint knife in a twined grass sheath, an axe made of copper, a bow and a quiver of flint-tipped arrows, some of them half-made (Spindler 1991). His retouching tool was also suspended from his belt, a piece of roundwood with an antler tine deeply embedded in it.
Groenman-van Waateringe, W, . The reconstruction of the Iceman’s shoes revisited. http://home.hccnet.nl/willy.groenman/
Poder, R 2005. The Ice Man’s Fungi: Facts and Mysteries. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, volume 7 issue 3. pp 357-359.
Ruff C B, Holt B M, Sla’dek V, Berner M, Murphy W A, zur Nedden D, Seidler H, Recheis W, 2006. Body size, body proportions, and mobility in the Tyrolean ‘‘Iceman’’. Journal of Human Evolution 51. pp 91-101.
Samdelli M, Melis M, Miccoli M, Vigl E E, Zink A R, 2015. Complete mapping of the tattoos of the 5300-year-old Tyrolean Iceman. Journal of Cultural Heritage, Volume 16, Issue 5. pp 753-758. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.culher.2014.12.005
Spindler, K, 1993. The Man in the Ice. London, Weidenfield and Nicholson.
Wood, J, 2004. The possible use of fire-cracked stones in ceramic production and recent research on the ‘Otzi’. grass cloak. In Smyntyna, O.V (ed.), The Use of Living Space in Prehistory. Papers from a session held at the European Association of Archaeologists Sixth Annual Meeting in Lisbon 2000. BAR International Series 1224.
Wood J, 2005. British Archaeology.