New Research Suggests Ceremonial Burial for Oetzi – The Iceman

The body of a Stone Age tribesman found high up in an Alpine pass, who once was thought to have been the victim of an ambush and killed may have been a Stone Age VIP who was given a ceremonial burial.

The prehistoric hunter known as Oetzi the Iceman may have been ceremonially buried, awarded a great honour by his tribe, rather than murdered as was previously thought, in a new study carried out by the National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography in Rome (Italy).  Oetzi, was found in 1991 by a team of hikers, his body was gradually being exposed as glacial ice melted away.  At first, he was thought to be the corpse of a climber or hiker, someone who perhaps got into difficulties on the mountain.  It was only later, when the body was properly studied that the true age of Oetzi was discovered.

The research team led by Luca Bondioli of the National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography have put forward a new interpretation of the evidence.  They suggest that Oetzi died lower down the valley but was carried up to the 3,200 metre-high Alpine pass for a ceremonial or ritual burial.  The number of artefacts found in close proximity and analysis of pollen found at the scene and in the body suggest that far from being killed in an ambush in the Alpine pass, Oetzi was carried to his final resting place.  The team speculate that he could have been an important figure in his tribe or village – perhaps even a chieftain.

It is likely that Oetzi did meet a violent end, there is evidence of traumatic injury, an arrowhead lodged in his shoulder for example, but in a report published in the scientific journal “Antiquity” the Italian team state that Oetzi was originally interred on a rock platform before the elements moved his body.

An Examination of Oetzi – A Chieftain?

Picture Credit: BBC News

Analysis of pollen from cereals found in his preserved stomach suggest that the mummified Oetzi died sometime in the spring.  Pollen found in the ice that entombed him suggests that the body fell there, or was placed during the summer.  This would also explain why so  many valuable objects were found near his body, had he been ambushed and murdered it is likely his attackers would have taken away these items.

Oetzi lived approximately 5,300 years ago, a time when stone tools were gradually being replaced by metal ones (the Copper Age or Chalcolithic) – an important time in the history of civilisation and the mummified remains of this 45 year-old man (approximately) has provided archaeologists with tremendous amounts of data about our ancestors.

Oetzi, the objects found with him and even a restoration of the clothes that he wore can be seen at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology.

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