What You Need To Know About This Man, Otzi

 According to the authors of a recent study, as ice melts due to rising global temperatures, more frozen mummies like Otzi the Iceman may come to light. A series of fortunate events that preserved the ancient murder victim's body frozen for millennia were previously thought to be responsible for his lengthy life, but more recent analyses indicate that Otzi's circumstances may not have been as unusual as previously thought.

"Otzi, the Iceman, was a major surprise for the archaeological community when he was uncovered in a gully in the Tisenjoch pass in the Tyrolean Alps in 1991," write the study's authors. The discovery's primary investigator argued that it was special and had been preserved due to fortunate events.

The "disaster theory" postulates that Otzi was originally a shepherd who lived in a valley and was driven from his home 5,100 years ago as a result of a violent struggle. Otzi went to the mountains, where he died in a gully devoid of snow, despite the fact that some of his belongings were damaged in the altercation and there was no time for repairs.

According to the study's authors, the body's exposure to the elements caused it to freeze-dry, which produced the extraordinary preservation. A glacier quickly engulfed the area, burying the body and the artifacts for more than 5,000 years, much like a time capsule.

This hypothesis was later supported by scans that showed an arrowhead lodged in Otzi's shoulder, proving that he had in fact been the target of an attack and had most likely passed away as a result of his injuries. The disaster scenario, however, might not be as accurate as previously thought, according on additional investigations carried out during the past 30 years.

To begin with, although the discovery of sloe berries next to Otzi's body initially led to the assumption that he passed away at the end of summer, pollen later discovered in his gut suggests that he may have actually died in spring. In such a case, the body would have been left outside during the summer and would not have frozen soon after passing away.

Additionally, research on pieces of a Bronze Age ski discovered on the Lendbreen ice patch in Norway showed how seasonal cycles can lead to objects on snow and ice becoming shattered and dislodged. The authors assert that the Iceman most likely didn't perish in the gulley after all, but rather would have been swept there at a later time by meltwater, noting the parallels between Otzi's destroyed goods and the Lendbreen ski.

The theory that Otzi was shielded by a glacier that quickly formed over the gulley after his demise is also disputed by the experts. They claim that the glacier likely first appeared 3,800 years ago.

They assert, based on this data, that "Otzi was not instantly permanently buried in ice, but that the gully where he lay was frequently exposed over the next 1,500 years."

All of this suggests that "the possibilities of finding another archaic human body, in a comparable topographical environment as the Tisenjoch, should thus be higher than previously anticipated," as relevant places are currently impacted by significant melt occurrences.

Thus, the Iceman may not be as exceptional as previously believed, and as the environment changes, additional old graves may be waiting to be found.

The Holocene journal has the study published.

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