Reading Comprehension - Passage: 'Otzi the Iceman'

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Imagine hiking high in the mountains and suddenly stumbling upon a frozen human body in the ice. This is what happened to two German hikers in 1991 when they discovered Otzi, a 5,300-year-old mummy, in the Tyrolean Alps. Otzi: The Iceman explains the scientific theories of how the Iceman might have lived, survived, and died. As readers learn about Otzi, they can develop their own theories about his life and death.
ÖTZI the ICEMAN Examining New Evidence from
by m. vidale, l. bondioli, d.w. frayer,
the Famous Copper Age Mummy
m. gallinaro, and a. vanzetti
he Iceman mummy, nicknamed Ötzi, was dis- body would have been rapidly dried by a strong, warm
covered in 1991 amidst sheets of melting ice on wind, and was soon covered by frozen snow. No signs of
the Tisenjoch pass of the Similaun glacier in the scavenging activity were visible on the body, and all the
Tyrolean Alps. He was found on the border between Italy equipment was left untouched.
and Austria, at an altitude of 3,200 m above sea level. He Such a dramatic and even romantic reconstruction
is a well-preserved male human corpse, dark in color, and was simple to communicate and visualize. In the follow-
dates to the early Copper Age, indicating he is more than ing years, after Ötzi was eventually put on exhibit at the
5,000 years old (ca. 3,250 yrs. cal BCE). His belongings, Bozen Museum in Italy, the mummy became
scattered around the body, included a bow and quiver a popular tourist attraction and source of
with arrows, a complete copper-bladed axe, a flint dagger revenue. For these and other reasons, it
with a wicker sheath, two birch wood vessels clad with was hard to question the original recon-
maple leaves, remnants of a backpack, a leather pouch
struction of events surrounding the
with small objects, fur and leather garments, shoes, and
Iceman’s death. Even after careful
other minor artifacts. When scientists realized the antiq-
excavations in 1992, the complete
uity of the find, the media response was overwhelming
crime scene findspot was not recon-
and Ötzi captivated audiences far and wide.
structed. After 20 years, a detailed
Was Ötzi Attacked? topographic map of more than 400
Both scholars and the general public gravitated to the artifacts found at the site and the
so-called disaster theory in which Ötzi had climbed the analysis of their distribution
slopes to the Tisenjoch. On the way or on the pass, he with computer-aided simula-
was mortally wounded in an armed attack. tions revealed that body and
With an arrow deeply sunk in objects had moved downslope with the
his left shoulder, he collapsed ice flow, but originally came from a spot
in solitude on the mountain- measuring about 2 x 1 meters (a little
top, bleeding to death. His more than 6 feet x 3 feet).
left : The flint dagger and its wicker right :
This modern recreation of the Iceman
sheath found with Ötzi. shows him dressed in garments made from
animal hides. Andrea Solero/AFP/Getty Images.
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2. above :The Iceman was found in the Tyrolean Alps left : Ötzi was discovered
on the border between Italy and Austria. face down in the melting
ice of the Similaun glacier.
© Paul Hanny.
Was Ötzi Buried?
In 2010, a study was published suggesting that the contents were partially dispersed by ice flows, until
mummy might owe its exceptional preservation to a recent climatic fluctuation revealed the grave’s contents.
proper burial and the equipment might not be a moun- This interpretation accounts for many anomalies, such
tain survival kit, but rather what was needed for a yet as the unexplained mode of preservation of the body,
more arduous trip—the voyage to the otherworld. unfinished arrows, shoes unsuitable for climbing, and
Far from simply a casual killing, Ötzi opened a crucial the cumbersome equipment he supposedly carried. This
window on the burial rituals and political strategies new interpretation is informed by “social theory” and
of a moment in European prehistory. is opposed by Ötzi’s original research group, which still
These findings paved the way for a comprehensive al- favors the “disaster theory.”
ternative interpretation. Pollen analysis proves that Ötzi After thousands of samplings and high-tech analyti-
died in early spring, when the mountains were probably cal tests, Ötzi is the most intensively studied mummy
still snow-covered; the body was likely left to rest for a in the history of archaeology. Almost universal agree-
few months in a controlled open-air environment, thus ment indicates that the mummy is not an artifact of
desiccating the corpse. When the pass became accessible, human action, like Egyptian Dynastic mummies. The
Ötzi may have been formally buried on the mountain incredible preservation of Ötzi’s body has been and
peak to signal the political control of the tribe over its remains a crucial point since its discovery. The mummy
territory. Dug into snow and ice, the grave is much better preserved than more recent bodies found
in similar glaciers, underscoring its importance.
Analysis of skin and underlying tissues revealed
that Ötzi underwent rapid desiccation while
left and opposite top : Ötzi has been intensively studied
by archaeologists from all over the world. South Tyrol
Museum of Archaeology/Eurac/Samadelli/Staschitz.
14 EXPEDITION Volume 58 Number 2
exposed to circulating air, being encapsulated in ice only stone stelae that, in the later Alpine Copper Age, feature
at a later time. Aeolian desiccation may be due to natural armed heroic ancestors or deities. In this light, while
or intentional processes. Material evidence is compat- Ötzi may have been a revered tribal chief, later stelae
ible with alternative theories: natural desiccation at the celebrate impersonal, perhaps sacred, ancestral identities.
findspot (“disaster theory”) or a sort of funerary treat- Growing abstraction of power roles might have been a
ment followed by burial at high altitude (“social theory”). side-effect of the evolution of increasingly formalized
Today, at Bozen, the body of Ötzi is visible through the political institutions.
glass of a special freezing chamber. To keep him publicly
viewable while minimizing risk of damage and decay is a
demanding and costly challenge. In both technical and
economical terms, public presentation and conservation
are conflicting needs; the present compromise is required
due to Ötzi’s rarity and extreme popularity.
The Copper Age on the Similaun Glacier
Beyond the details of the mummy’s preservation and
burial, Ötzi’s discovery sheds new and unexpected light
on Copper Age societies. Healed injuries, such as a hand
dagger wound and the fatal arrow shot, possibly coupled
with a blow to the head, suggest regular warfare and
imply the use of different weapons. Analysis of the gut
pollen content suggests that Ötzi had moved at different
altitudes, which fits well with a model of squad-raiding
Ötzi the Iceman’s meals demonstrate a fully agrar- Other Icemen?
ian and pastoral lifeway, but one that was still deeply Was Ötzi an isolated case? Although no evidence exists
economically and symbolically involved with the wild, for similarly spectacular discoveries, significant artifacts
probably sacred world of the mountains. Daily village life dating to the same period surfaced at similar high-
is suggested by ingested cereals, possible cheese residues, altitude Alpine locations. In some cases, such finds (axes,
and pottery grains mixed in the food, as well as by goat daggers, arrow heads) are alternatively explained as casu-
and cattle skin in the associated garments. However, the al losses by travelers and shepherds, or as parts of buried
last meat he ate came from hunted deer and ibex, wild caches. However, at least one other high-altitude Alpine
animals that had contributed to other parts of his dress. pass, the Schnidejoch, which has a similar topographic
He also wore a cap likely made of bearskin. setting and gradual glacial melting, has revealed clothing
Ötzi also had the marks of a leader of his time, with fragments, a wooden bow, a quiver and arrows, and shoe
prestigious weapons (dagger, axe, bow, and arrows), tools, fragments. This material has been radiocarbon-dated to
and an ornament (a marble bead). The stone and copper between the early 3rd millennium and the 2nd millen-
components of these objects precisely match those found nium BCE. Although no bodies have been recovered,
in the contemporary graves of the floodplain, but most such finds might come from collapsed graves similar
striking are the preserved, highly refined garments. The to that of Ötzi.
care with which various animal skins of contrasting Even Alpine folklore suggests that Copper and
colors were selected and matched and the elaboration Bronze Age bodies and burials could be preserved by
and coordination of the attire point to a complex encod- ice, only to come slowly to light with the transition to
ing of role and personal identity. Ötzi’s coat and belt a milder climate. The following legend was recorded in
match the highly symbolic imagery of the monumental 1862 by the historian Luigi Cibrario on a high Piedmont
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The Iceman's
Survival Kit
Or were these objects for Ötzi's
voyage to the otherworld? Over
400 artifacts were scattered
around the site where the
Iceman was found, including
these tools and weapons.
 Medicinal Fungus
; Arrow (notch)
= Belt & Pouch
% Flint Tools
& Awl
( Tinder Fungus
) Retoucheur
(for working flint)
+ Needle
§ Arrow (head) &
16 EXPEDITION Volume 58 Number 2
right :This map shows the distribu-
tion of artifacts over the Iceman site.
Blue diamonds: heavier items such
as pelt and leather. Yellow “x”s:
lighter items such as grass and
hair-like items. Black empty stars:
intrusive items. Light green area:
items displaced during excavation.
White boulders and stones indicate
the platform, the proposed grave
Objects designated by red letters:
(A) grass mat; (B) backpack frame;
(C) axe; (D) bow; (E) birch bark
vessel; (F) dagger; (G)quiver; and
(H) cap. First published in Antiquity
84.325 (2010): 681-692.
valley: it happens that the glaciers that stretch between for further reading
the mountains cover a crowd of sinners, both male and Fowler, B. Iceman: Uncovering the Life and Times of a Prehistoric
Man Found in an Alpine Glacier. New York: Random House,
female, to whom the embrace of God is precluded until
they have destroyed the huge mass of ice with the needles Grosjean, M., Suter, P.J., Trachsel, M., and Wanne, H. “Ice-
that they all hold. It is likely that the legend reflects the borne Prehistoric Finds in the Swiss Alps Reflect Holocene
sighting of one or more high-altitude Bronze Age burials Glacier Fluctuations.” Journal of Quaternary Science 22
in which the dead, according to the funerary habits of (2007): 203-207.
the time, wore long copper pins. Emerging from ice like Oeggl, K., Kofler, W., Schimidl, A., Dickson, J.H., and Egarter
Vigl, E. “The Reconstruction of the Last Itinerary of Ötzi,
Ötzi, this could very well match the portrayal of sinners
the Neolithic Iceman, by Pollen Analyses from Sequentially
in old, traditional outdoor shrines of the same region, Sampled Gut Extracts.” Quaternary Science Reviews 26
as black-skinned, almost skeletal figures. Ä (2007): 853-861.
Pernter, P., Gostner, P., Egarter Vigl, E., and Rühli, F.J. “Radio-
acknowledgments logic Proof for the Iceman’s Cause of Death (ca. 5300 BP).”
The authors are very grateful to Francesco Rubat Borel for telling Journal of Archaeological Science 34 (2007): 1784–1786.
us about the revealing legend of the sinners with needles mentioned Samadelli, M., ed. The Chalcolithic Mummy: In Search of Immor-
at the end of this article.
tality. Volume 3. Schriften des Südtiroler Archäologiemuse-
ums, Bd. 4. Wien Bozen, Folio Verlag, 2006.
massimo vidale , ph . d.
(University of Padova), luca bondi-
Samadelli, M., Roselli, G., Fernicola, V., Moroder, L. and Zink,
oli , ph . d.
(National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnogra- A.R. “Theoretical Aspects of Physical-chemical Parameters
phy Luigi Pigorini), david w. frayer, ph.d. (University of for the Correct Conservation of Mummies on Display in
Kansas), marina gallinaro, ph.d. (Università degli Studi Museums and Preserved in Storage Rooms.” Journal of
di Sassari), and alessandro vanzetti, ph.d. (Sapienza Cultural Heritage 14 (2013): 480-484.
Schriften des Südtiroler Archäologiemuseums, Bd. 4. Wien-
University of Rome) contributed to this study.
Bozen, Folio Verlag, 2006.
Vanzetti, A., Vidale, M., Gallinaro, M., Frayer, D.W., and
Bondioli, L. (2010) “The Iceman as a Burial.” Antiquity 84
(2010): 681–692.
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