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Left, Ötzi’s bowstring; Right, The Iceman's reconstruction by Alfons & Adrie Kennis Source: © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology / H. Wisthaler;  Right -Ochsenreiter

Ice Age Hunger Gamer Ötzi’s Bowstring Is Identified

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A length of cordage discovered alongside the 5,300-year-old body of ´Ötzi the Iceman´, the ancient hunter who was frozen high in the Dolomites has been found to be a string for his wooden hunting bow.

The famous naturally mummified ‘ Iceman’ was discovered in 1991 by a pair of hikers on the eastern flank of Fineilspitze, a peak in the Ötztal Alps, at 10,532 feet (3,210 meters) above sea level. Today, the ancient hunter is known as the Iceman, Similaun Man, the Man from Hauslabjoch, and the  Tyrolean Iceman , but most often - Ötzi.

The Ötzi Bowstring

Now, a team of Swiss scientists have completed a study on an animal sinew cord which was found tucked into an arrow quiver once used by the 5,300-year-old hunter and they have proven it once served as the string on a ´strong, powerful bow.´

In a Telegraph article, the cordage is said to be two meters long, almost exactly the same length as the bow that was found beside the Iceman's mummified body. Archaeologists from the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology , where the decomposing mummified body of the Neolithic man is held in a climate-controlled chamber, said they have finally proven that the cord in Ötzi’s quiver is the bowstring “and it fits his bow perfectly.”

The Iceman's reconstruction with yew bow in hand, by Alfons & Adrie Kennis Source: © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology / Ochsenreiter

The Iceman's reconstruction with yew bow in hand, by Alfons & Adrie Kennis Source: © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology / Ochsenreiter

Ice Age Botanical Hunter Gatherer?

In October I wrote a news piece for Ancient Origins after scientists retraced Ötzi´s last path before he climbed to his death and found genetic evidence from thousands of frozen ´ancient liverworts and mosses.  A paper written by archaeobotanist Jim Dickson from the   University of Glasgow  said the mosses “belonged to 75 different species with only 30 percent of them local to the environment in which Ötzi died”.

It was previously assumed that the long cord was made of plant materials, seeing the Iceman had an intimate relationship with plants and mosses, but the new study published in the Journal of Neolithic Archeology , conducted by a team of scientists from the Swiss National Science Foundation museum in Bolzano, just north of Italy, suggests plant fibers “would not have withstood the tension of the bow” and were not suitable for a bowstring.

Ötzi’s bowstring is made of finely twisted animal sinew. (© South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology / Ochsenreiter)

Ötzi’s bowstring is made of finely twisted animal sinew. (© South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology / Ochsenreiter)

Twisted Glue of the Ancient World

Ötzi’s bowstring has been declared ´the oldest known and best preserved in the world´ completing the historical jigsaw of the Copper Age hunter’s bow which is known to have been freshly-cut from a yew tree, complete with hatchet marks left by its ancient manufacturer when he whittled the wood into shape.

In my 2016 book, A Twist In Time , I present a visual walk-through mankind’s relationship with cordage and said, “archaeologists interpret the past based on stones and flints while the cordage that bound the ancient world together has rotten away, but was once a central component in ancient survival and hunting crafts”. And it seems I got at least that bit right in that the scientists new study says prehistoric bowstrings ‘are among the rarest of all finds in archaeological excavations’ and while arrows and arrowheads are relatively common finds worldwide, complete sets of hunting equipment are ´extremely rare´.

Designed For Quick Release

The researchers also postulate that a flap of leather found on the inside of the quiver protected its interior, which was found holding 14 arrows when Ötzi died and the scientists think that when required the quiver was opened very quickly and arrows were ´pulled out and shot with a single motion of the arm´ - Hunger Games style.

Ötzi the Iceman was murdered in an ancient world where arrows, it would seem, were the favored mode of execution, evident in that Ötzi was shot in the back with an arrow which kicked off what has become a long-running archaeological murder mystery. The official Ötzi website says the arrow penetrated the back of his left shoulder and in 2014 the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology commissioned Chief Inspector Alexander Horn of the Munich Criminal Investigation Department to investigate the “Ötzi Murder Case” using modern criminological methods.

The investigator concluded that to avoid a physical altercation the perpetrator chose a ´long distance attack´ to kill the Iceman and a copper axe discovered at the crime scene suggests ´theft´ might have been the motive “a behavioral pattern which is prevalent even today in the bulk of murder crimes”, says Dr Horn.

Top image: Left, Ötzi’s bowstring; Right, The Iceman's reconstruction by Alfons & Adrie Kennis Source: © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology / H. Wisthaler;  Right -Ochsenreiter

By Ashley Cowie

Comments

"the cordage is said to be two meters long, almost exactly the same length as the bow" Really good English is " almost exactly the same" hey!

An entire article about a bow string? boggles my tiny mind.

Gary Moran's picture

Even distinguished scientists need to do something to earn a living, I guess.

I agree with you. But, platyng devil’s advocate, maybe they wanted to make certain of their conclusions

Drew458's picture

Wow, 29 years of research to figure out that the long skinny string in his arrow quiver was … a bowstring. I wonder how they managed to figure that out? Oh, and it was made of sinew, just like every other bowstring from the before the dawn of time until … the late iron age? Perhaps in another 50 years they’ll decide that the bit of leather was … an arm guard, like every other archer has used since the beginning? 

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