Ötzi the Iceman’s preservation wasn't a miracle, researchers claim

Ötzi's weapons and tools had been harmed by the weather rather than by a battle.
Nergis Firtina

The Iceman Ötzi surprised the researchers when he was found in the Ötztal Alps located on Italy and Austria border in 1991 by being preserved "naturally."

Lived sometime between 3350 and 3105 BC, Ötzi is thought to have been murdered due to the discovery of an arrowhead embedded in his left shoulder. The nature of his life and the circumstances of his death have sparked much curiosity and study throughout the years.

Now, another study about Ötzi is attracting researchers. A small group of academics from Norway, Sweden, and Austria discovered evidence that reveals a defect in the original explanation of how Ötzi was frozen for so long.

The group describes a more reasonable interpretation in their research, which was published in the journal The Holocene on November 7.

Running foul of Konrad Spindler

An Austrian archaeologist, Konrad Spindler, developed a theory to explain how Ötzi's remains had survived for so long. He suggested that the body had been freeze-dried, covered in the ice beneath a glacier (and shielded from its movement by a gully), and kept in cold storage for a long period of time.

Only when the ice he had been encased in melted as a result of climate change were his remains discovered. It was unlikely that anyone else would ever have the same experience as Ötzi because of the series of events that made it unique.

As stated in the Phys, the researchers criticize nearly every aspect of Spindler's idea in this new study. The cause of death is the sole aspect they take to be accurate. Instead, they contend that the presence of food in Ötzi's stomach proves he passed away in the spring and not the fall.

Ötzi the Iceman’s preservation wasn't a miracle, researchers claim
The famous mummy is preserved in a special cold cell under glacier conditions and monitored with high-tech equipment.

There was no time capsule since the landscape analysis revealed that the remains had not been covered by a glacier, indicating that Ötzi had repeatedly melted out of the ice. Additionally, there was proof that Ötzi had submerged himself in water numerous times.

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According to the researchers, shows that Ötzi's weapons and tools had been harmed by the weather rather than by a battle with an unidentified foe. Finally, the researchers discovered evidence that suggested Ötzi had not actually passed away in the gully where he was discovered but had instead been carried down the mountain by environmental factors.

The researchers concluded that more remains like Ötzi's will likely be discovered as the region continues to warm up given their evidence suggests that his remains lasted for such a long time under normal circumstances.

How did Ötzi die?

Ten years after the body was found, the cause of death was still unknown. At first, it was thought that Ötzi had perished in a winter storm after becoming exposed. Later, it was hypothesized that Ötzi may have been a ritual sacrificial victim, maybe as retribution for his position as a chieftain. This hypothesis was motivated by theories put forth earlier for bodies found in peat bogs in the first millennium BC, such as the Tollund Man and the Lindow Man.


When Ötzi, the Iceman, was found in a gully in the Tisenjoch pass in the Tyrolean Alps in 1991, he was a huge surprise for the archaeological community. The lead initial investigator of the find argued that it was unique, preserved by serendipitous circumstances. It was hypothesized that the mummy with associated artifacts had been quickly covered by glacier ice and stayed buried until the melt-out in 1991. It is now more than 30 years since Ötzi appeared. In this paper, we take a closer look at how the find can be understood today, benefitting from increased knowledge gained from more than two decades of investigations of other glacial archaeological sites, and from previous palaeo-biological investigations of the find assemblage. In the light of radiocarbon dates from the gully and new glaciological evidence regarding mass balance, it is likely that Ötzi was not permanently buried in ice immediately after his death, but that the gully where he lay was repeatedly exposed over the next 1500 years. We discuss the nature of the ice covering the site, which is commonly described as a basally sliding glacier. Based on the available evidence, this ice is better understood as a non-moving, stationary field of snow and ice, frozen to the bedrock. The damaged artefacts found with Ötzi were probably broken by typical postdepositional processes on glacial archaeological sites, and not, as previously claimed, during conflict prior to Ötzi’s flight from the valley below.

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