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5,000-year-old mummy found in Alps

This Day in World History

September 19, 1991

5,000-year-old mummy found in Alps

The mummified remains of Ötzi

While hiking through the Alps on the Italian-Austrian border, Erika and Helmut Simon, a German couple, spotted a brown shape in a watery gully below them. Scrambling down to investigate, they realized that they were looking at a human head and shoulder. Assuming the body was a climber who had been killed in a fall, they reported their find to authorities. The body was removed with a jackhammer and tourists made off with some of its clothing and the tools that were found with it.

In fact, though, the Simons had stumbled upon an amazing find. The “Iceman,” as he was quickly dubbed, was a mummified corpse from Europe’s prehistory, about 5,300 years old.  A wealth of information has been gleaned about what his life during the late Neolithic period (8000-3000 BCE) was like.

The Iceman, now renamed Ötzi, after the location where he was found, was about 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed about 110 pounds. Scientists studied his clothes and bearskin-bottomed shoes; his copper axe, flint knife, and arrows; and the container holding embers wrapped in leaves, which they concluded was a fire-starting kit. They determined his age (about mid-forties), identified what he ate (wheat, barley, other plants, goat, and deer), and diagnosed his ailments: x-rays, for example, indicated he suffered from arthritis. Then, in 2007, a chance discovery during a scan of the body revealed what may have been the cause of his death: he had been murdered. A tiny arrowhead was lodged beneath one of Ötzi’s shoulder blades, where it had severed an artery. When he was struck, he pitched forward onto a granite slab and bled to death. At some point, the body was covered by ice, preserving it—until, a few thousand years later, when because of a warming world enough ice had melted to reveal him once again.

A reconstruction of how Ötzi may have appeared and the equipment he carried with him at the time of his death. (Getty Images)

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