Iceman was slain by arrow, scientists say

The Washington Post

PARIS — The mystery of the Iceman now appears to be solved.

A team of scientists in Italy has concluded that the 5,300-year-old Bronze Age hunter, whose frozen, mummified corpse was discovered a decade ago in the Alps, died from an arrow wound that ripped through his back.

When the Iceman, nicknamed Otzi by researchers, was discovered, scientists speculated that he may have fallen asleep and died in the snow, or was possibly killed in a fall. One clue to unraveling the mystery of his death was the awkward position of Otzi’s left arm.

But using computerized tomography, an X-ray process that allows for multidimensional imaging, scientists found an arrowhead beneath the Iceman’s upper left shoulder and concluded that he died a painful death that included massive bleeding.

The discovery was made two weeks ago, and scientists working with a crew from the Discovery Channel for a documentary next March, announced their findings Wednesday.

"The new findings throw up a new series of conclusions as to how the Iceman died, and overturn such misleading issues as the position of the body, the left arm and numerous other aspects," said Eduard Egarter Vigl, the curator who takes care of the Iceman in the northern Italian city of Bolzano.

The arrow now opens a whole new avenue of theories, Egarter Vigl and other scientists said Wednesday. There may have been a war or a struggle. It may have been a more personal feud.

The death of the Iceman in battle also gives archeologists and historians new insights into his times. He would have been slain 5,300 years ago, before the great pyramids of Egypt were built and as Europeans were first experimenting with the wheel.

"This changes everything. Now the research on the Iceman starts over," said Alex Susanna, director of the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology in Bolzano (, which has been the Iceman’s home since 1991.

The Iceman was known to be a hunter and an archer. When he was found, scientists hailed the Iceman as startlingly well-preserved. They said the body was in such good condition that pores in the skin looked normal, and even the eyeballs were preserved behind lids frozen open. His body was discovered along with a copper ax, a bow and some flint arrows — with the same kind of arrowhead that some rival or aggressor fired from behind.

The wound suggests Otzi’s assailant fired from below him. The arrowhead, less than an inch long, ripped through his chest, tore through the nerves of his left arm and sliced the veins. He probably survived the initial assault, since the arrow didn’t strike any vital organs. He likely lost feeling in his left arm, and he would have suffered massive hemorrhaging.

The arrowhead stopped just short of his lungs.

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