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23 November 2011
Oetzi may have smashed eye in fall

A sharp incision in his right eye may have contributed to the rapid demise of Oetzi the Iceman, the famous mummy who died in the Italian Alps more than 5,000 years ago. New analyses have revealed that a deep cut likely led to heavy bleeding in the man's eye.
     The official opinion remains that an arrow in his left shoulder was the cause of death for Oetzi. But the new study raises the possibility that he fell over after being shot by an arrow. "Maybe he fell down or maybe he had a fight up there, nobody knows," said Wolfgang Recheis, a physicist in the radiology department at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. "With this cut alone, at 3,250 meters, it would have been a deadly wound up there."
     In one of the latest studies, Recheis used the most advanced CT-scanning technology available to take a closer look at Oetzi's right eye. Earlier examinations had shown a crack in the skull in that spot. The new work revealed a deep incision in the same place. Scans also revealed iron crystals around the right eye and forehead, which produce a bluish hue. And since the region's rocks are naturally low in iron, Recheis and colleagues suspect the iron is a sign of a hematoma, or massive bleeding outside of the blood vessels. A biopsy is needed for confirmation.
     Albert Zink, head of the EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy, was surprised and perplexed to hear of these new claims. At a conference this fall, he said, a whole table-full of experts discussed the evidence and unanimously agreed that the arrow killed the Iceman. The shoulder wound, he said, was clearly fresh and bleeding heavily when Oetzi died. The eye injury could have happened from a fall after Oetzi was shot or from a blow to the head by his attacker. But whatever the cause, Zink is sure that it was secondary to the arrow strike. "It's true that there might be new evidence that there was a little crack in the skin, so maybe he was bleeding from skull trauma," he added. "But it doesn't change anything in the end."
     According to some news reports, the new findings could support a theory that Oetzi was the victim of a mountaineering accident. Both Recheis and Zink agreed that this was unlikely. Based on his muscle strength and patterns of joint degeneration, the Iceman was a fit and experienced climber. And he was near an easy path when he died.

Edited from Discovery News (21 November 2011)

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