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7 May 2003
Oetzi: a 5300-year-old hi-tech warrior?

When hikers spotted a corpse poking from the Schnalstal glacier in the Austrian-Italian Alps in 1991, they thought they had found the body of a lost climber. Then researchers took a closer look and announced the iceman was an ancient shepherd, a primitive farm worker who 5300 years ago had got lost in the mountains and had died of hypothermia. Yet now, after 12 years scientists have completed the full reconstruction of the oldest, best-preserved human body known to science, discovering the truth about Oetzi the Iceman: that he was the Stone Age equivalent of a hi-tech trooper kitted with complex weapons and survival gear.
     Far from being a poor shepherd who had got lost and wandered to a lonely, icy death, Oetzi was well-armed and well-protected when he died. His equipment included a flint dagger, a longbow of yew, plants with powerful pharmaceutical properties, three layers of clothing made of deer and goat hides, a bearskin hat, a framed backpack, a copper axe, dried fruit and other foods wrapped in moss for protection and a fire-making kit that included flints and ores for making sparks. "These items are testament to how intimately his people knew the rocks, fungi, plants and animals in their immediate surroundings" state the Otzi scientists in the latest issue of Scientific American. In addition, the iceman had tattoo marks on his back that suggest he had undergone acupuncture while food experts concluded that his last meal was made up of goat meat and bread cooked in a charcoal oven.
     Analyses have forced researchers to overturn most of the initial ideas about Oetzi's supposed primitive status. For example, they reveal that Otzi's longbow was made of yew - 'the best wood for such purpose because of its great tensile strength,' they say. Long bows of yew gave the English army its crucial advantage at Agincourt, a power Otzi and his people had discovered thousands of years earlier. In addition, Otzi was found to have been carrying two pieces of birch bracket fungus, which is known to contain pharmacologically active compounds. In short, he had his own first-aid kit. Clearly, Stone Age Europeans were sophisticated individuals who exploited local resources and led lives that were far from brutish or short.

Source: The Observer (4 May 2003)

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