Ötzi the Iceman, a 5,000-year-old body two hikers discovered locked in Alpine ice 20 years ago, has made the news again. This time, we have a reconstructed photo of what he might have looked like. Reconstruction artists and brothers Alfons and Adrie Kennis have recreated Ötzi, showing us a deeply wrinkled, wiry fellow with piercing brown eyes and, by today’s standards, looking much older than his 46 years.
Ötzi may be one of the most famous mummies of all time. While no King Tut, he was so perfectly preserved in the Alpine ice that researchers have figured out countless details about his life. They know where he lived as a child: he grew up in in a valley in the Italian Alps. They know what he ate: his stomach contents at death showed a diet of meat and veggies cooked over an open coal fire. They even know that he suffered a violent death, shot in the back by an arrow that pierced him near his lung. He bled to death, unable to move his left arm, high in the Alps, likely in the summer. Another wound on his hand shows that he probably had been involved in hand-to-hand combat before he was killed.
This wiry fighting Iceman was not large by today’s standards — about 5’3” and 110 lbs — but for the Copper Age between 3350 to 3100 B.C.E., he was about average. What’s unusual about Ötzi is his advanced age. Living into the mid-40s would have been rare during Ötzi’s time, when lifespans usually ended in the 20s. He didn’t make it that long unscathed, though. His gut was full of parasitic worms, his fingernails showed signs of recent and repeated severe disease, and at some point, Ötzi had broken his nose and worn out all of his joints. Add to that some hardening of the arteries, and we know that Ötzi didn’t live an easy life.
But he knew what he was doing. His clothing (see image) and the tools he carried give us a picture of a man who knew his materials well and could survive for weeks with what he had on him. His unfinished bow — a full eight inches taller than he was — could have sent an arrow completely through a deer. He had the most perfect and only complete Copper Age axe ever found — made of copper, of course. Every tool he had was made with great care out of the most suitable material, whether wood, hide, bone, or horn.
Ever since making a splash after he was discovered, Ötzi has drawn attention with new revelations. We’ve gotten a murder mystery and insights into his childhood, diet, illnesses, abilities, and parasites, and his way of life. But no discovery has been quite as thrilling as looking into this reconstruction by Alfons and Adrie Kennis of the deep brown eyes of this Copper Age man, Ötzi, named after the Ötztal Alps, where he died at the advanced age of 46 and laid in the ice for 5,000 years.
Dr. Emily Willingham came to EarthSky from The Biology Files. Her background includes a PhD in biological sciences, a bachelor's degree in English, and a published book: The Complete Idiot's Guide to College Biology. She is a scientist, writer, editor, teacher, autism & ADHD parent, and "all around opinionator." Says Emily: "Got an English BA & biology PhD, & I'm not afraid to use them, often together."