8 January 2005
Oetzi murdered in power play?
Oetzi the Iceman, the world's oldest and best-preserved mummy, might have been murdered in a struggle for power, according to a new theory that identifies the 5,300-year-old mummy as the powerful leader of a Neolithic community.
Discovered in 1991 in a melting glacier in the Oetztal Alps — hence the name — by the German hiker Helmut Simon, Oetzi is thought to have died at about 45. He was hit by an arrowhead while being assaulted by his enemies, some of whose blood was found on the mummy's cloak and weapons.
"Oetzi was a leader, perhaps a shaman. He might have gotten many enemies as he did not want to give up his power even though he was very old, a sort of Methuselah for his time," Walter Leitner, an expert at the Institute for Ancient and Early History at the University of Innsbruck, said. Leitner presented his new theory at a recent archaeological conference in Hannover, Germany. According to Leitner, Oetzi's high social status is testified by the items he carried with him. As he emerged from the ice, the mummy was still wearing goatskin leggings and a grass cape, while a copper-headed axe, a quiver full of arrows and a medicine kit with herbal remedies were lying nearby. "Only a leader would have owned a copper axe. Copper was very precious and a symbol of power at that time," Leitner said.
According to his reconstruction, the Iceman was assaulted not far from the Similaun Glacier where his mummified body was found. The assailants kept Oetzi at a distance because they were afraid of him, Leitner said. One attacker hit him with an arrow in the back, near his left shoulder, others threw more arrows at him, while another one got closer and hit Oetzi's right hand with a knife. "Then the attackers removed the arrow from Oetzi's shoulder and left him there. As they came back to the village, the murderers said that the old man got lost in the mountains. For this reason, they did not steal his precious axe. It had to look like an accident, not a murder," Leitner said.
His theory contrasts with that one of Eduard Egarter Vigl, the official caretaker of the 5,300-year-old mummy at the South Tyrol Archaeological Museum in Bolzano, which attracts around 300,000 visitors a year. The researcher believes Oetzi did manage to flee up the mountain until he collapsed and was entombed in the Similaun Glacier's ice. Probably caught in a storm at 10,000 feet, the right hand cut to the tendons and the left arm possibly bent in the effort to stop the blood, Oetzi spent at least three days in excruciating pain before he died, according to Egarter, who carried out histological and biochemical analysis on the deep knife wound. "The presence of haemosiderin containing macrophages in skin wounds would indicate that the injury happened between three to eight days before Oetzi's death. Most likely, he managed to escape in the mountains and there he died after a few days because of blood loss, hunger, cold and weakness," Egarter said.
But according to Leitner, it would be highly unlikely for Oetzi to climb up the mountains with an arrow deep inside his shoulder. "I based my theory on the archaeological finds and some logic. I know the Ötztal Alps pretty well and I believe that a man wounded so badly would have tried to escape going downhill, not up in the mountains," Leitner said.
Source: Discovery Channel (3 January 2005)