Oetzi the Iceman

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Ötzi the Iceman has attracted much attention since his 1991 discovery in the snowy heights of the South Tyrol. His uniquely well-preserved corpse has undergone various scientific examinations to reveal all aspects of his health, diet, and lifestyle. But one question remained: what caused Ötzi to die in c.3300 BC? Using modern X-raybased technology, an Italian-Swiss research team can now provide the definitive answer.

A CT scan has revealed a fatal lesion of an artery close to his shoulder. This killer wound was caused by an arrowhead that still remains lodged in his back, explained Dr Frank Rühli of the Institute of Anatomy at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. The scientists also detected a large haematoma – or internal haemorrhage – in the surrounding tissue. By incorporating historic and modern data on the survival rates of such a severe lesion, the scientists concluded that the Iceman died within a short time due to this lesion. ‘Such obvious proof of a vascular lesion in a body of this historic age is unique, and it has helped to determine the cause of this extraordinary death without a destructive autopsy. We look forward to doing more investigations into the circumstances surrounding the Iceman’s sudden death,’ said Rühli.


The investigation of the Iceman is part of the wider Swiss Mummy Project whose aim is, whenever possible, to use non-invasive methods – such as CT scanning – to gain information on historic mummies.

This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 25. Click here to subscribe

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