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Ötzi, The Iceman. A Murder Case in The Ötztal Alps

Vent, Ötztal, Tirol, Austria.
Vent, Ötztal, Tirol. Picture: Ötztal Tourismus / Jochen Müller

The Ötztal is a 65 km long alpine valley located in Tirol, Austria. The Ötztaler Ache river flows through the valley in a northern direction until its confluence with the Inn river, 50 km west of Innsbruck.

The southern end of the valley, also called the Gurglertal, ends at the border with Italy. The Timmelsjoch mountain pass connects the Ötztal with the Passeier Valley and Merano in the province of Sudtirol, Italy.

The valley is formed by the main chain of the Alps, with many glaciers and high peaks, including the Weißkugel and the Similaun.

Vent, the little mountaineers’ village lies on the Venter Ache at an altitude of 1,895 meters at the end of the Venter valley, in the foothills of the Talleitspitze summit. Vent was an independent rural community until the middle of the 19th century, but has been part of the municipality of Sölden in the Ötztal since 1854. Vent has held the title of Austrian Alpine Club mountaineering village since 2008.

Franz Senn (1831-1884), who came from a farming family in Ötztal, and one of the later founding members of the German Alpine Association, recognized the importance of tourism as an important source of income for local mountain farmers. He laid out paths and paths in the extensive alpine terrain and thereby initiated local tourism. For many, he is considered the founder of tourism in Tirol.

Martin-Busch Hütte, Vent, Ötztal. Sheeps in Summer Pastures.
Martin-Busch Hütte, Vent, Ötztal. Sheeps in Summer Pastures. Picture: Ötztal Tourismus / Gudrun Muschalla

During the summer season, around 3,500 sheep from the South Tyrolean Senales valley graze above Vent for a few months. The annual Ötztal seasonal migration (transhumance) across the Hochjoch and Niederjoch takes place northwards at the beginning of June and southwards in mid-September. The discovery of Ötzi at Tisenjoch suggests that these paths have apparently been used for a long time.

Ötzi, The Iceman
Ötzi by Alfons & Adrie Kennis. Picture: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology / Ochsenreiter

Ötzi, also called the Iceman, is the natural mummy of a man, fully-clothed, fully-equipped, who lived between 3350 and 3105 BC. Ötzi's remains who, thanks to extraordinary circumstances, have been preserved down to the present day, were discovered on September 19, 1991, in the Ötztal Alps, hence the nickname "Ötzi" coined by Viennese journalist Karl Wendl, by two German tourists. The exact finding site is located at the Austrian–Italian border, near Similaun mountain and the Tisenjoch pass, at an elevation of 3,210 m on the east ridge of the Fineilspitze.

From Vent, the finding site is accessible via Similaunhütte for experienced mountaineers only. A large stone pyramid and information boards mark the historical place that boasts magnificent views of Similaun, Tisental, and Vernagt water reservoir in Schnalstal Valley.

Memorial pyramid of Ötzi The Iceman finding place
Memorial pyramid of The finding place. Picture: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology / Dario Frasson

Ötzi was 160 cm tall, weighed about 50 kg, and was about 45 years of age at the time of his death, a relatively old man for his time. His clothing consists of a cap, a fur coat, a pair of trousers, a leather loin cloth, and a pair of lined shoes. He carried with him a copper ax with a yew handle, a flint-bladed knife with an ash handle, and a quiver with 14 arrows. Over 5300 years ago, Ötzi was crossing Tisenjoch in the Schnalstal Valley, Sudtirol, where his body was discovered and preserved naturally in the ice.It is believed that Ötzi bled to death by an arrow wound.

Ötzi is Europe's oldest known natural human mummy, offering an unprecedented view of Copper Age Europeans. The discover of the body in the icy heights proves human mobility in and across the Alps as early as the Chalcolithic.

In 2001, X-ray images and a CAT scan revealed the presence of an arrowhead in Ötzi’s left shoulder. The discovery put a new and interesting slant on the archaeological complex: an archaeological site has become a crime scene.

Since the entry wound didn’t have time to heal while Ötzi was still alive and the arrowhead pierced a vital artery, scientists assume that Ötzi was fatally wounded by the arrow and bled to death within a short time. In addition, new insights were gained into an unhealed laceration on his right hand, indicating that he had engaged in hand-to-hand combat some hours or days before his death.

In November 2010, the identification of fibrin around the arrow wound, which breaks down rapidly after clotting, confirmed that Ötzi did not survive long after being wounded.

A new analysis of X-rays of Ötzi identified his stomach, which, contrary to earlier assumptions, contained food remnants. His last meal, which he probably ate no more than an hour before his death, consisted of a mixture of fatty ibex and deer meat as well as grain.

Analysis of the genome revealed information about both his mother’s ancestors and the lineage of his father. Through his father’s line, Ötzi belonged to a subgroup of haplogroup relatively common only on the islands of Sardinia and Corsica. This suggests that Ötzi and the populations in Sardinia and Corsica had common ancestors who migrated from the east to Europe during the Neolithic period. Over time, this group was displaced by, or mingled with, other population groups across large swathes of Europe. The descendants of the original population have only survived in significant numbers on the isolated Mediterranean islands.

Through his mother’s side, Ötzi belongs to haplogroup K1f, a subgroup of K1 that was only found in the central Alps and has since died out.

Although Ötzi's find site drains to the Austrian side, the province of Sudtirol claimed property rights over the mummy. Land surveys in October 1991 proved that the body had been located inside Italian territory according to the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye of 1919. Under the Treaty the southern half of the former Trolean crownland up to the Brenner Pass, including predominantly German-speaking Sudtirol and the present-day Trentino province, together with the Carinthian Canal Valley around Tarvisio fell to Italy.

His remains and personal belongings have been on exhibit at the South Tirol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Sudtirol, Italy since 1998.

You can Download the Ötzi the Iceman audio guide app on the Apple Store or Google Play. The multimedia audio guide app provides exciting information and background knowledge about the permanent exhibition “Ötzi-The Iceman”. It contains 23 audio commentary sections lasting 1-3 mins. each (45 mins. in total), images and an interactive map for easy navigation.

Available in English, German, Italian, French and Russian.


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