The Final Days of Otzi: Stone Tools Reveal What the Iceman Endured
Stone tools found with a 5,300-year-old frozen mummy from Northern Italy reveal how alpine Copper Age communities lived, according to a study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Ursula Wierer from the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Florence, Italy, and colleagues.
The Tyrolean Iceman is a mummified body of a 45-year-old man (known as Otzi because of where he was found in the Ötztal Alps) originally discovered with his clothes and personal belongings in a glacier of the Alps mountains, in the South Tyrol region, Italy. Previous research showed that the Iceman lived during the Copper Age, between 3370-3100 BC, and was probably killed by an arrow. In this study, the researchers analyzed the Iceman's chert tools to learn more about his life and the events that led to his tragic death.
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Stone arrow heads found with Otzi’s mummified body. (Image: Wierer et al )
The team used high-power microscopes and computed tomography to examine the chert tools in microscopic detail, including a dagger, borer, flake, antler retoucher, and arrowheads. The structure of the tools' chert reveals that the stone was collected from several different outcrops in what is now the Trentino region (Italy), about 70km (43.5 miles) away from where the Iceman was thought to live. Comparing this ancient toolkit with other Copper Age artifacts revealed stylistic influences from distant alpine cultures. By carefully analyzing the wear traces of the Iceman's chert tools, the authors concluded he was right-handed and probably had recently resharpened and reshaped some of his equipment.
The researchers focused on studying a dagger, 3 arrowheads, and an endscraper, although a borer and a small flake were also found as part of the ancient toolkit Otzi carried.
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The Iceman lithic assemblage: a) Dagger, b) Endscraper, c) Borer, d) Arrowhead 14, e) Arrowhead 12, f) Small flake. (Image: Wierer et al )
The styles of production of the objects indicate to the researchers that they are influenced by both Northern and Southern traditions. These types of tools were widely circulated but the Iceman’s dagger shared ‘more similarities with distant daggers than with more local ones’ the study recorded. It also noted that the rocks used to make the tools came from different spots in a wide area. With distances up to 47 miles (70km) away, this could be indicative of Otzi or some of his associates trading with people from these other regions.
They could tell that Otzi retouched and resharpened his own tools as he also possessed an antler retoucher which was worn from use. This led to the conclusion that this was likely typical for other people of the time. The tools were heavily worn down from use and resharpening and some were damaged. As they seemed to be close to the end of their usable life, the researchers asserted that Otzi had not been able to replace them for a while.
Drawing on this data and the wealth of other examinations that have been conducted, the team have been able to piece together a reconstruction of Otzi’s activities in his final days.
Results of the present study integrated to past reconstructions of Ötzi‘s last days, based on the Iceman last itinerary and meals [ 154, 158–160], the state of his wounds [ 155–156], the causes of his death [ 157] and the damaged and insufficient equipment. (Image: Wierer et al )
The report describes the final days of Otzi as follows:
“Trying to integrate the data of the present research to the time-based sequence and reconstructed scenario put forward by the cited authors, the following observations can be made: It is very likely that the entire toolkit under study here, including arrow 14, already resharpened in the same style of arrowhead 12, was in Ötzi’s possession before the hectic itinerary of his two last days. The time of the breakage of the two lithic arrowheads cannot be stated, but could have happened during these hours. One can reasonably assume that the last resharpenings of the chert tools, the fresh retouch of endscraper and borer planned for future manual work, were carried out by Ötzi before he suffered the deep wound on his right hand, which must have been disabling for a right-hander. The injury could also be considered as the terminus ante quem for any other manual work he had in progress: the finishing of the bow blank made from a yew trunk, the finishing of the arrowshafts from Viburnum lantana shoots as well as other repair. But, as it seems, this was not the only impediment he had to face: although having an urgent need, he did not obtain any new lithic arrowheads or chert blanks to make these. Evidently though having descended to lower altitudes, he did not have access to a village or to persons to acquire the necessary items. Maybe for this reason Ötzi might have kept the broken arrowheads, and also took some antler points with him, an alternative raw material for arrowhead manufacture.
The Iceman was therefore in a critical situation when he returned to the mountains hours later and reached the Tisenjoch. The lethal arrow which hit him from behind, shot by a Southern Alpine archer, was therefore only the last in a series of difficulties he had to face, and which also left traces in his lithic toolkit.”
These findings shed light into the Iceman's personal history and support previous evidence suggesting that alpine Copper Age communities maintained long-distance cultural contacts and were well provisioned with chert.
The article, originally titled ‘Stone tools from ancient mummy reveal how Copper Age mountain people lived,’ was first published on Science Daily.
Source: PLOS. "Stone tools from ancient mummy reveal how Copper Age mountain people lived." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 June 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180620150233.htm
Ursula Wierer, Simona Arrighi, Stefano Bertola, Günther Kaufmann, Benno Baumgarten, Annaluisa Pedrotti, Patrizia Pernter, Jacques Pelegrin. The Iceman’s lithic toolkit: Raw material, technology, typology and use . PLOS ONE , 2018; 13 (6): e0198292 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0198292