Solving the 5,000-Year-Old Murder of Otzi the Iceman

In 1991, the mummified body of a 5,000-year-old murder victim was discovered in melting ice at a rock-gully crime scene high in the Italian Otzal Alps. Nicknamed “Otzi“, the estimated 45-year-old man and his possessions were incredibly well preserved. His skin, hair, bones, and organs were cryopreserved in time, allowing archeological researchers a phenomenal insight into human life in the Copper Age.

The frozen corpse also gave modern science the opportunity to forensically investigate and positively determine how Otzi the Iceman was killed.

The story began on a sunny September day, when two hikers were traversing a mountain pass at the 3210-meter (10,530 foot) level and saw a brown, leathery shape protruding from the ice amidst running melt-water. Examining closely, they found a human body which they thought might be the victim of a past mountaineering accident.

The hikers reported it to Austrian police who attended the following day and quickly realized they were dealing with an ancient archeological site. A scientific team was assembled and, over a three-day period, the remains were extracted and taken to the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Innsbruck.

Such an incredibly valuable find soon led to a jurisdictional argument between the Austrian and Italian governments and an immediate border survey was done, finding Otzi had been lying ninety-two meters inside of Italian territory. Italy gained legal possession of the body and artifacts, however in the interests of science and history, everything was kept at Innsbruck until a proper, climate-controlled facility was built at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy, where Otzi the Iceman now rests.

Many questions arose. Who was he? Where did he come from? How long ago did he live? And, of course, what caused his death?

Technological advances over the past twenty-five years have answered some —> Read More