Were the tattoos of Ötzi the iceman therapeutic?
Ötzi the iceman is a 5,300-year-old mummy, who was discovered by some German tourists in the Oetz Valley, Austria, in 1991. He was originally believed to be the frozen corpse of a mountaineer or soldier who died during World War I. Tests later confirmed the iceman dates back to 3,300 BC and most likely died from a blow to the back of the head. He is Europe's oldest natural human mummy and, remarkably, his body contained the still intact blood cells, which resembled a modern sample of blood. They are the oldest blood cells ever identified. His body was so well-preserved that scientists were even able to determine that his last meal was red deer and herb bread, eaten with wheat bran, roots and fruit.
One of the more surprising discoveries about Ötzi, is the series of tattoos found all over his body, which researchers believe may have been an early form of acupuncture .
His body art, the only known example of Copper Age tattoos, includes 50 tattoos across the body, most of which are formed of lines and crosses which were made by making small incisions in the skin and then rubbing them with charcoal.
A cross-shaped tattoo on Otzi's knee. Photo source .
Until recently, it was believed that the tattoos were merely decorative, however, a new study has revealed that it is more likely the tattoos were made for therapeutic purposes and were an ancient form of acupuncture.
“Radiological images of the tattooed areas show degenerative areas under the tattoos that could have caused pain,” said a spokesman for the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. “As the tattooing spots lie approximately over the acupuncture medians, it seems common opinion that they could have been use for that.”
Ötzi’s tattoos were found on all the parts of the body that showed evidence of wear and tear, including his ankles, wrists, knees, Achilles tendon, and lower back, leading the researchers to suspect that the tattoos were used therapeutically to relieve ailments like rheumatism and arthritis. If this is true, then this could constitute the earliest form of acupuncture, which was thought to have been invented more than 2,000 years later in Asia.
A series of lines found on Otzi's back. Photo source .
The spokesman for the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology said that if indeed the tattoos were created as a form of acupuncture, “people of the Iceman's times would have known not only about nature around them, but also about the human body and its reactions - I think this is remarkable.”
Featured image: Two tattooed bands can be seen around Otzi's wrist. Photo source .