Otzi, Rewritten

Either you’ve continued to be fascinated by his near perfect preservation and the plethora of information that we are able to glean from him, or you’re sick and tired of a leathery old guy getting all the good publicity. Regardless of your own personal feelings towards Otzi, new research has begun to re-write his oft’ repeated tale.

The story usually goes like this… Otzi was an older hunter who was traveling away from his homelands through the Alps between Italy and Austria, possibly with a companion, when he was attacked. He was struck on the head, suffered multiple bruises, and was hit with an arrow in the back. Judging by the position that he is forever trapped in, his last efforts at movement were an attempt to remove the arrowhead.

Research conducted by Vanzetti et al. (2010) used GIS to conduct a spatial scatter analysis of the associated artifacts and argue that the layout is more likely caused by placement rather than randomly spreading out. From this they infer that Otzi died in the lowlands and was taken up to the mountains as part of the funeral rituals. This assertion is supported by the presence of a large rock platform 20 feet uphill  that may be the burial site. Given the condition he was recovered in, they argue that Otzi was first placed upon the platform, but given the weather conditions rolled along the hill before ending up in prone position. They also argue that this new hypothesis clears up some of the unanswered questions that had been lingering. The unfinished weapons are now seen as offerings and the floor mat as a burial shroud.

The debate remains open on where Otzi was killed. Other researchers argue that the associated platform does not have the characteristics associated with contemporary funerary traditions, and that his body doesn’t seem to carry physical evidence of being carried post-mortem. The debate continues, so information on the Iceman will continue to appear.

As an archaeologist, the take-away from research like this is the importance of context. For almost a decade Otzi has been the focus of a lot of research and news coverage, and yet this is the first we’re hearing of the total context. The context is where the real story is written and enriched, without it Otzi is just a really famous dead guy. It also shows the utility of using GIS on a smaller scale. This program enables us to quantify spread of artifacts and is literally the technological embodiment of the values laid out by archaeothanatology (more to come on this subject in case this word doesn’t mean anything to you).

Works Cited

Vanzetti et al. 2010. “Iceman as a burial”. Antiquity, 84(325) 681-692.

Bower. 2010. “Prehistoric Iceman Gets Ceremonial Twist”. Science Daily. http://www.usnews.com/science/articles/2010/08/27/prehistoric-iceman-gets-ceremonial-twist.html

One response to “Otzi, Rewritten

  1. With all the focus on the remains and the implements, it’s interesting to finally see some context being discussed. Thanks for the summary and links.

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