The Ice Man




The Finding: On September 19th, 1991, a couple from Nuremberg mountaineering in the Ötztal Alps at a height of 3200 m discovered a corpse, the upper part of which protruded from the glacier. On September 23rd the competent authority. i.e. the official medicolegal expert, collected the mortal remains by helicopter. In the time between September 19th and September 23rd a great many individuals uncovered the body from the ice. In the course of one of the exposures a member of the alpine rescue service, working with a pneumatic hammer, damaged the left hip and genital regions, an impairment which had been designated as "animal corrosion" by the media. The exposed body had been wrapped up in a black plastic foil, conditions which were found at official recovery on September 23rd, 1991. The corpse was then delivered to the Department of Forensic Medicine on September 23rd and transferred to the Department of Anatomy on September 24th, 1991, in the evening, after having identified the body as indisputably a prehistoric find. Sporadic infestations with fungi were cleared by swabs drenched in carbolic acid solution, and the body was then preserved in a cold-storage room of the department. The cause of the contamination by fungi having been unknown at that time, CT-scannings were carried out on September 25th, first with the departments CT and second, to be on the safe side, with the CT of the Radiologic Department of the University Clinic of Medicine. Apart from these series of investigations the corpse has been preserved in the cooling chamber of the Department of Anatomy in Innsbruck. It is only for control and investigation purposes that the body may be removed and positioned in a laminar flow box for a rather short time (maximum 11min).


The Storage and Age: The storage criteria have to consider the uniqueness of the find which may be dated 3350-3300 BC with 56%, or 3210-3160 BC with 36% and 3140-3160 BC with 8% probability, respectively. That means: 1.Glacier-like conditions, 2.No preservative measures which might possibly prevent further research projects. Ref. 1: The temperature of the glacier at a height of 3200 m runs from 0° to -10° centigrade with a maximum at -5° or -6°. Moreover the humidity of the glacier amounts up to 100%. These conditions were achieved with reservation, the humidity attained mounting only up to 98%. Because of reliability in operation a second cooling-box has to be run under same conditions, constantly. Ref. 2: The preconditions by which a mummified body had been maintained for millennia in next to perfect conditions means that no further preservative measures are used, whatsoever. Bacteria and parasites, as well as cell membranes, inasmuch as they are still intact, may thus be preserved.


Examinations: The body has been submitted to several examinations so far, the sequence of which being of crucial importance. The various investigations must not impede each other, thus requiring special design of distinct instruments and other devices, for instance. About 40 research teams are involved in these examinations, and their activities have to be coordinated meticulously. Reconstructions by means of stereolithography, based on CT-imaging, are well to the fore from the clinical anatomic point of view. As an issue a model of the skull may be presented, the inner surface of which being of conclusive interest. Preparations for further reconstructions are being made. As an outcome of different observations it may be stated that the corpse had been mummified completely before having been enveloped by the glacier, thus the formation of adipocere did not take place. The humidity within the glacier prevented damage of morphological structures, preserving the latter to a high degree of satisfaction. Nevertheless it must be considered that the inner organs have undergone maximal shrinkage and dehydration. The male cadaver is 158 cm tall and weighs just a little more than 13 kg. The external genitals are desiccated and reduced in size to such an extent that only by re-examination with a magnifying-glass can their existence be ascertained. The lumbar vertebral column and the knee and foot joints show degeneration.


THE ICEMAN'S "DISASTER": In the final period of the Iceman's life, which ended at the Hauslabjoch, it appears that he probably spent the summer on the mountain pastures of the Ötztal with his flock of sheep and goats. Before the onset of the first winter snows he gathered up his flock and lead it down to his settlement in the Val Venosta. This could have been in company with other shepherds or with helpers who had come up specially from the valley. There is much to suggest that this operation took place according to plan and that the Iceman reached his village safely with his sheep and goats some time during the second half of September. The harvest was already in full swing. All available hands were needed to store up supplies for the long winter. At some point about then a disaster must have occurred, whose nature, of course, as the Iceman is our only source of information, we cannot reconstruct. There was certainly a violent conflict, perhaps more than one, as a result of which the Iceman had to flee. In the process he lost some of his equipment and other items were damaged. He himself suffered a serial rib fracture. For his escape route he chose the one with which he was familiar from the annual transhumance, until death caught up with him at the Hauslabjoch.


SEX: The Iceman was first thought to be female by the discoverers because of its delicate appearance but after a second sex diagnosis it was proved to be male because a penis and scrotum were identified.


AGE AT DEATH: The exact age at death is more difficult to determine, especially with adults. The Iceman no longer revealed any juvenile features because all growth processes were complete. Hence the man's age was certainly over twenty. The relatively high level of tooth wear from chewing, very clearly visible through the parted lips at least in the front teeth, would normally indicate an age between thirty-five and forty. However, specific living conditions and diet can cause considerable variations to that average. The degree to which the cranial sutures have grown together sometimes enables a persons age to be estimated. But it is not yet clear weather these pictures show open sutures. If, however, the findings relating to the seemingly open sections of the coronal and sagittal sutures were to be verified, then the Iceman's presumed age would have to be revised downward, to roughly twenty-five to thirty years. For the moment they are then considering an age range between twenty-five and forty, but more likely around the later part of the estimation.


HEIGHT: The first measurement of the Iceman's height was taken immediately after his delivery to the forensic institute in Innsbruck. Measured over the left leg this gave a measurement of 153 cm. Further measurements were made as the body was relatively extended, the distance from the top of the head to the soles of the feet could be measured directly - 159 cm. His living height would have been taller due to the dry mummification causing him to shrink. The average of results of ten different formulae to find his living height was taken to give a measurement of 160.5 cm.


HIS TOOLS: The Iceman carried, along with the fur clothing on his back (now leather because all of the hair has fallen out), some equipment with him on his last voyage. It appears that up to the last moment, he held his birch-bark ember container in his hand, dropping it as he fell. It came to rest barely 2 meters southwest of the head. Some 4 to 5 meters south-southwest of the head of the corpse there was a second group of finds. Here the axe, parts of the wooden frame of a backpack, remains of fur, cords, fragments of a second birch-bark container, and a few other small items were found. The remains of fur probably don't represent another piece of clothing. More likely they belonged to a pelt bag fixed to the frame of the backpack. The quiver was recovered at a third location about equidistant from the other two, so the spots represent the corners of a triangle with sides 4 or 5 meters long.



Final Statement: Finally, it has to be stated that forthcoming examinations employing new methods will have to be made possible. To achieve this, preservation of the body as in the past is an indispensable precondition. Such being the case, anatomy has to accomplish essential functions for recent and forthcoming research methods, respectively. With that, extensive information of a human being living in the Stone Age may be acquired for the first time; knowledge and information which, perhaps, will impart new understanding.