Who Killed Ötzi The Iceman 5,300 Years Ago?

Ötzi was murdered 5,300 years ago in the Italian Alps. AFP/Stringer/Getty

Archaeologists have known for over a decade that Ötzi the Iceman was killed by an arrow, but new research suggests that the 5,300-year-old hunter-gatherer was probably shot from a great distance away, by an enemy with whom he had previously clashed.

Ötzi met his end after being felled by an arrow that entered through his shoulder and severed a major blood vessel. In preparation for a recent congress to mark 25 years since the discovery of the Iceman’s mummified remains, the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology hired Chief Inspector Alexander Horn of the Munich Criminal Investigation Department to reopen the investigation into the world’s oldest murder case

After consulting with several of the archaeologists that have worked with Ötzi, Horn concluded that the victim of this fatal attack was probably unaware that he was about to be shot, as the evidence suggests he was resting and eating at the moment of his death. This would appear to indicate that he was shot from a distance.

Furthermore, the fact that he sustained no other injuries during this mortal incident suggests that he was not involved in a struggle. In fact, the only other wound found on Ötzi’s body was a gash on his hand that he appears to have suffered a few days before his death, most likely while trying to block a blow from an adversary. It therefore seems likely that the Iceman got into a fight – which he probably won – and therefore made an enemy, who has now become the prime suspect in Horn’s murder investigation.

Other research presented at the meeting revealed that the metal in a copper axe carried by Ötzi originated in a mine in southern Tuscany, rather than in the Alpine region where he lived and died. It would seem likely then that he purchased rather than manufactured his weapon, providing evidence of an ancient trade link between the Alps and central Italy.

Interestingly, the fact that he was still in possession of his axe when a group of mountain climbers discovered his body more than 5,000 years later indicates that whoever killed him didn’t do so in order to rob him, strengthening the hypothesis that he was murdered over a grudge.

 

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