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27 February 2005
Iceman was wearing 'earliest snowshoes'

Oetzi the Iceman may have been wearing the world’s earliest known snowshoes when he died in the Alps some 5,300 years ago. New analysis of his accoutrements suggests that his 'pannier' or 'backpack' may in fact have been the frame of a snowshoe similar in design to those used in historic times.
     Jacqui Wood, who studied the Iceman’s costume after he was found in 1991, close to the Italian-Austrian frontier in the South Tyrol, was asked to re-create his cloak and shoes for the display at the new museum in Bolzano, Italy, where he is housed in a temperature-controlled room. The shoes puzzled her: the leather soles did not look designed to be walked on. The shoes had straps with no obvious function, and a net of lime-bast string instead of leather backs. Nevertheless, the archaeological team working on Oetzi reconstructed the shoes without several straps and slits in the sole lashings, and Wood’s replicas nearly a decade ago followed their ideas.
     Working for a forthcoming BBC Two film about the discovery, Wood realised that the shoes had missing backs, and were made to be attached to something. She also realised that a bent hazelwood pole, two larch slats and a quantity of string which had been interpreted as the frame for a pannier or backpack could be instead the remains of a snowshoe. She made a cardboard replica of the wood fragments, which proved to be easily manipulable into the form of a standard North American Indian snowshoe. Wood points out that the tight grass cloak that Oetzi was wearing would have prevented his wearing a backpack: if he wore it over the cloak there were no arms to hang it on, and worn under the cloak it would have stopped the garment from being done up, a necessity in the bitter Alpine air at more than 11,000ft. In retrospect, using snowshoes at that elevation and in that climate seems the obvious thing to have done: but the absence hitherto of snowshoes at such an early date and the accepted notion that he was carrying a pack have until now obscured what now seems as clear as the Alpine air in which Oetzi lived and died.

Source: Times Online (21 February 2005)

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