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2 September 2010
New theory: Oetzi was ceremonially buried

The prehistoric hunter known as Oetzi the Iceman may not have died at the site in the Italian Alps where he was found 19 years ago, but was only ceremonially buried there, according to a new study by Italian researchers. The 5,300-year-old man, whose frozen mummy is kept in a museum in the northern Italian city of Bolzano, died from an arrow shot in the back that hit a major artery, according to 2005 studies at Bolzano hospital.
     But Oetzi was slain on a different glacier from the one where he was found in the Oetz Valley between Austria and Italy, argues Luca Bondioli of the National Ethnology Museum in Rome (Italy). In his paper, Bondioli does not dispute this version of the Iceman's death but says a new examination of objects found with him show the body came from a nearby glacier. "Oetzi was buried in ceremonial fashion some time after his death," Bondioli claims.
     Bondioli and colleagues investigated the geomorphology of the site where Oetzi was found, a shallow depression between two low ridges. Some five meters (16.4 feet) away, they noticed a small rock platform, which they believe was Oetzi's burial site, connected by a natural fissure to the depression where the mummy was found. The researchers used this information to create the first comprehensive distribution map of the body and other artifacts, which they believe are funerary items rather than mountain equipment.
     The researchers plotted the distribution of the items on a digital model of the Iceman site. The model suggested that over time, Oetzi and the objects moved in semi-melted ice and slumped into the lower depression through the fissure. According to the researchers, the corpse would have turned prone, with the feet towards the north and the arms hanging down, like a body floating in dense fluid. It then stopped against the boulder where it was found in 1991.
     The new theory would explain why some of the weapons discovered alongside the mummy were not ready for use and why so many objects were found next to the body. The archaeologists believe that some of the valuable objects would surely have been looted by his murderer if Oetzi had died in a fight at the spot where he was found. "Our reconstruction suggests that Oetzi died at at lower altitude in early-mid spring, and was then buried up on the mountain with his goods in late summer or early autumn," Luca Bondioli said. Pollen found in the mummy's gut indicated that Oetzi died in April, while pollen within the ice suggested the corpse was deposited there in August or September. The theory would explain this mismatch.
     The international scientific community is split over the new findings. Frank Ruehl of Zurich University says Oetzi's arm is 'in a strange position,' a pose in which it was 'locked at the time of death'. This would indicate that the body was not moved, Ruehl contends. Also somewhat sceptical is Dr Wolfgang Muller of Royal Holloway University of London. He studied the chemistry of Oetzi's teeth and bones to track his migration route through the Alps. "It's an interesting new interpretation but it's not bullet proof," he said. "However, if Oetzi was buried they must have carried the body a long way because the nearby villages would have been at a low altitude."

Sources: BBC News (25 August 2010), ANSA, AFP, Yahoo! News, Discovery News (26 August 2010)

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