In 1991, a German couple who were mountain climbing in the Alps (a range of mountains between Italy and Austria) came across a shocking discovery: a body sticking out of the ice of a glacier. They thought that it must be the body of another hiker who had accidentally fallen into a crevasse and frozen to death.
They reported the body to the owner of the hotel where they were staying, and he called the Italian and Austrian police. The body was so close to the border, that at first no one knew who should be in charge of it.
When the police dug the body out of the glacier, they soon realized that there was something strange about it. It was all dried out, and with it were found a copper-headed ax, a quiver full of arrows, and a long stick, along with many other bits and pieces of wood and leather.
An archeologist was called in to look at the body and the artifacts that were found with it, and he soon realized that this was a man from the period when people were first learning how to smelt copper and make tools from it. His body had been frozen in the glacier for over five thousand years.
Never before had people discovered such a well preserved body, clothing and tools from so long ago. Archeologists were able to learn a great deal about this man who had been frozen in the ice. They named him Ötzi [oot-zee] after the part of the Alps where he was found. Sometimes he is also called The Iceman.
Ötzi was about forty years old when he died. He was wearing leather leggings made from a patchwork of different colored animal skins sewn carefully together, and also a coat made of skins sewn together in a striped pattern. On his head he had a bearskin hat, and on his feet he wore leather shoes stuffed with grass for extra insulation against the cold.
He wore a wooden-framed backpack on his back and carried a bow which he had not yet finished making. He had a quiver full of half finished arrows with bone and stone arrowheads which had not yet been attached. He wore a small pack with his fire-making kit around his waist. And hanging on the strap of his pack was a stone knife in a woven grass sheath. He also carried a copper-bladed ax.
We know that Ötzi came from a village which had learned to farm, because in his equipment were found a few stray grains of wheat. And when scientists looked at what was in his stomach, to see what he had eaten before dying, they found ground wheat that was probably bread. They also found the meat of ibex and red deer. Scientists also found pollen in Ötzi's stomach which told them that Ötzi had come most recently from the south side of the Alps in northern Italy. He was traveling north over the mountain pass into Austria when he died.
Scientists discovered another very interesting thing when they examined Ötzi's body. They found arsenic and copper in Ötzi's hair. (As your hair grows, chemicals that are in your body often end up inside it.) The copper and arsenic in Ötzi's hair must have gotten into his body from breathing fumes from copper smelting. That means that when Ötzi lived, in 3,300 B.C., the peoples in northern Italy and southern Austria had already learned how to mine and smelt copper. Ötzi must have been exposed to the fumes from the smelting quite often to get all that arsenic and copper in his body. Perhaps he was even a coppersmith himself.
Sometimes a archeologist's work is very much like a detective's. We have been able to learn a great deal about Ötzi and his clothes and tools, but there are other things we can never know for sure. When doctors examined Ötzi's body , they discovered a stone arrowhead in his back and a deep cut in his hand. They also found small traces of blood from four other people on his equipment. What does this mean?
Although Ötzi carried an ax and a knife, his bow and arrows were not finished when he died. It seems unlikely that he would have been going out to fight as a warrior with unfinished weapons.
Perhaps he was traveling north over the mountains with two friends from his village when they were attacked by raiders from another tribe. One of Ötzi's friends was killed by the attackers' arrows, and Ötzi himself was wounded when he was shot in the back. He fought off one of the attackers with his knife, wounding the enemy tribesman. But Ötzi was hurt again; his enemy's knife cut Ötzi's thumb nearly down to the bone.
At last Ötzi and his surviving companion, who was also wounded, were alone. Ötzi pulled out the two arrows that had killed his friend out of his body and put them into his quiver. Later he would fasten the arrowheads onto new arrows when he was finished making his bow, and perhaps he could avenge his friend's death. Then he and his remaining companion buried their friend under a small pile of stones.
Ötzi's companion helped pull the arrow out of Ötzi's back, but the arrowhead broke off inside the wound. Ötzi was in pain, but he could still walk. He and his friend knew they would have to hurry on their journey so that they could get home safely without being attacked again.
They set off together towards the mountain pass, but their luck was still bad. Even though it was June, and summer was coming to the Alps, sudden storms could still blow up and trap travellers in a swirl of blinding snow. That is exactly what happened to Ötzi and his friend. They were separated in the snow, and Ötzi found himself feeling more and more tired. His back was hurting from the arrow wound. At last, he took shelter in a little hollow in the mountain side, even though he knew that to stop moving was to risk freezing. He was too cold and he hurt too much to go on.
There the snow drifted over him, and he was not seen again for 5,300 years.
Secrets of the Ice Man by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
This book for children contains a number of photographs of Ötzi and the artifacts found with him as well as drawings showing what he might have looked like when alive. The intended audience is probably 3rd to 5th grade, but an interested younger child would probably find the pictures absorbing although some parts might have to be summarized rather than read aloud in full.
Iceman by Brenda Fowler
Definitely written for adults or high schoolers with a strong interest in the process of archeology, this in-depth book provides an inside view of the science and the politics involved in the investigation of the Iceman.
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