Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

How Isotopes Traced Ötzi’s Origins

Scientific examination of the mummy. 
© South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/ EURAC/ Samadelli/ Staschitz

Scientific examination of the mummy. © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/ EURAC/ Samadelli/ Staschitz

By Alf Larcher

Some stunning analytical chemistry has revealed the story of Ötzi, whose frozen, partly battered remains were hacked from a glacier on the Austro-Italian border after 5000 years.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

While hiking in the southern Austrian mountains very close to northern Italy in October 1991, Erika and Helmut Simon stumbled across the top half of a human corpse protruding from glacial ice. Local authorities thought it was a hiker missing in the area some years back, and “hacked” the corpse (initially with a jackhammer) out of the ice, resulting in it sustaining some damage. Along with some then unidentified materials which were collected and bagged, the corpse was taken for closer inspection to the University of Innsbruck, Austria.

It became quickly apparent that rather than the corpse being a recent victim of the mountains, it was many thousands of years old being dehydrated, preserved and mummified by the ice which had encapsulated it. Even perhaps more amazingly, the “materials” collected on site were found to be personal artefacts of the mummy comprising clothing, shoes, hunting equipment and a variety of other implements that a mountain dwelling Neolithic Homo sapiens would evidently have. It became apparent that the mummy was in fact one of the most significant archaeological finds of the century. As this information came to light the world’s attention heightened; what was to become of this man-in-the-ice? His future was firstly dependant on one fundamental question – was he found in Austria or in Italy? This was important as the mummy was clearly of...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.