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The Ice Man Mummy Recovering Data on Ancient Peoples


In the Ötztal Alps, right on the border of Italy and Austria, a man who lived more than 5 thousand years ago was discovered (Kristensen 170). He existed when our civilization was in the initial stages of its formation. More than 30 years have passed since the discovery, but its study continues. At first, Otzi was mistaken for a dead climber: the body was only half pulled out of the glacier, but it seemed that he died relatively recently. The Ice Man has become a unique source of information about how the distant ancestors of Europeans lived and what they ate and wore. As a result of the excitement among the public and scientists after the discovery of Otzi, a new historical discipline was born — glacial archaeology.

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What Is a Mummy

A mummy is a body that stores soft tissues (skin and dehydrated muscles) for a long time after death. Mummification can be natural or intentional (for example, the embalming of Egyptian pharaohs). The absence of conditions for rotting contributed to the natural preservation of mummies in the highlands, such as the Ice Man, who froze in the Alps around 3300 BC (Fleur). In this case, mummification became possible due to the unique climatic conditions that allowed the body to be preserved. Cold can retain corpses for thousands of years. Despite thousands of years spent at a great height above sea level, mummies retain parts of clothing, facial features, and even tattoos on the skin.

Analyses/Technology Used to Examine the Remains

Today, the set of methods and approaches used when working with mummified remains depends on the tasks facing researchers. Some individuals (such as the Ice Man) are usually studied more thoroughly and scrupulously using specialized research technologies. In the project’s first stage, the radiography of mummies, macroscopic examination of body tissue samples, and microscopic examination of histological sections obtained after tissue rehydration are carried out. Paleontological and fingerprinting studies follow this, identification of insect remains, textile analysis, and radiocarbon dating. In addition, facial reconstruction is performed on the skull for individual individuals. After the discovery of the Ice Man, work began on improving the methods of minimally destructive tissue sampling and analyzing them.

Analyzing Physical Remains

Careful study of mummies allows scientists to even restore their appearance. For example, the condition of teeth and joints can determine the age of a person, as well as height and weight. For example, the height of Otzi was 165 centimeters, and he weighed only 50 kilograms; at the time of his death, he was about 45 years old. (Fagan and Durrani 43). The condition of his muscles indicated that Otzi was used to moving over rough terrain, perhaps grazing sheep on high-altitude pastures. Analysis of the contents of the stomach and intestines allowed scientists to determine the diet of the deceased. The Ice Man last ate eight hours before his death (Kristensen 169). He had two types of meat: chamois and deer (most likely dried), bread, and roots.

Artifacts Associated with the Ice Man

Among the artifacts associated with the Ice Man were his clothes. Otzi was dressed in a whole set of things made of the skin of various animals (sheep, goats, and cows). He wore shoes with wide soles, most likely specially designed for movement in the snow. A grass layer was found inside the shoe, which additionally warmed it. On top of all this, the deceased man of the Copper Age wore a cap of brown bear skin with a leather strap. Otzi had a whole set of things with him: first, archaeologists were struck by a perfectly preserved copper axe with a 60-centimeter handle made of yew (Kristensen 171). The largest artifact was a wooden yew bow with a length of 182 centimeters, and the object was still not finished (Fleur). The other items were more primitive: a stone knife, a flint scraper, and a bone awl.

Unanswered Questions

The question of the circumstances and cause of the death of the Ice Man remains unanswered. For a long time, the generally accepted version was the version proposed by Konrad Spindler; according to the archaeologist, Otzi froze to death, having fallen at an altitude of 3210 meters in a snowstorm (Fleur). In 2001, during an X-ray examination of the mummy, a deeply stuck arrowhead was found in his left shoulder (Fleur). In addition, traces of the blood of four people were found on various objects at once. The most popular and plausible versions are murder and death from falling into an ice storm. However, the circumstances and cause of death are still unknown.


In the countries of Northern Europe, in Switzerland, as the ice melts, more and more artifacts lost millennia ago began to return to the surface of the earth. Due to global warming, scientists began to make numerous finds frozen into layers of snow and ice. Studying this type of natural mummy required new technologies for analysis, which led to the emergence of glacial archaeology. Otzi from the Ötztal Alps remains an unsurpassed discovery so far. However, it can be assumed that many historical discoveries are still waiting for glacial archaeologists.

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Works Cited

Fagan, Brian, and Nadia Durrani. “The Many-Voiced Past.” In the Beginning: An Introduction to Archaeology, Routledge, 2020, pp. 42-56.

Fleur, Nicholas. “Tiny Brains of Extinct Human Relative Had Complex Features.” New York Times, Web.

Kristensen, Gustav. “A New Interpretation of Otzi, the Iceman.” Sustainability in Environment, vol. 4, no. 3, 2019, pp. 165-171.

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