Living in the Alps, you’d think Ötzi the Iceman had an ample supply of stones. However, new research suggests that before he died on the glacier some 5,300 years ago, Ötzi was struggling to get hold of the raw material needed to craft new chert tools.
Discovered thawing out of a glacier that lies on the boundary between Austria and Italy in 1991, Ötzi's incredible preservation has given researchers astonishing insight into the lives of Europeans during the Copper Age. Not only was his body largely intact, showing that he was heavily tattooed and likely around 45 when he died, but so were his stomach contents, revealing he had recently eaten ibex meat and wheat.
Attached to his belt, he was carrying a pouch that contained a personal toolkit of an end-scraper, a borer, and a flint flake. He was also carrying a short chert stone dagger, a handful of loose arrowheads, and 14 arrows in his quiver. By looking at how these tools were made and maintained, the team have revealed some new insights into his life.
They were able to show that Ötzi had taken immaculate care of his stone tools, frequently and meticulously resharpening them with the antler retoucher he carried. But interestingly, they found that he would not have been able to keep doing so for much longer, as the tools were so small they were at the end of their lives. This suggests he was unable to get his hands on the raw material needed to make new ones.
The study determined that the stone that was used to craft the tools in Ötzi’s kit came from at least three different locations, with one arrowhead being made from chert originating 70 kilometers (43 miles) from where he finally died. Intriguingly, the wear on the tools hint at the fact that Ötzi was right-handed, but one of the arrows he was carrying had feather fletching wound to the left, which means it may have been made by a different person altogether.
It shows how the communities and people living in that region of Europe some 5,400 years ago had a detailed and extensive trading network between different groups in distant areas. For a time before he died, Ötzi was likely cut-off from these routes.