This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Saturday, 13 October 2012

The Iceman Dieth

(From February 2009)

Five thousand and three hundred years ago, a man was killed on a mountain just inside what is now Italy. We do not know who he was, or what his name was, or what he did for a living; we can only speculate. What we do know is this:

In 1991, a pair of German tourists found a frozen, naturally mummified corpse on the mountain (it later turned out the corpse was less than a hundred metres inside Italian territory). When they got to the nearest, Austrian, authorities with their tale and photographs, the mummy (still thought modern at the time) was rather crudely hacked out of the ice, causing some damage, and removed to  a morgue in Innsbruck, Austria, where real study of it began. Once the site of discovery of the body was recognised as being inside Italy, even by just 92 metres, the corpse was taken to the South Tyrol Institute of Archaeology in Bolzano in Italy where it is displayed today.
They named him Ötzi the Iceman. He was, analysis says, some 45 years old when he died, so even back then they could live that long. He was some 165 cm tall and weighed perhaps 50 kilograms – short and skinny, like many of today’s Indians. He had apparently undergone tattooing from acupuncture as a cure for arthritis. His clothing was relatively sophisticated and mostly constructed of leather, and his shoes so well-made that an Italian shoe company wanted to purchase the rights to manufacture a modern equivalent. He was well equipped with flint and tinder and was armed as well – a quiver with several arrows, only two of which were finished, a flint knife, an unfinished longbow and an axe of 99.7% pure copper (it was the Copper Age, and far to the south east the first of the Pyramids of Egypt would not be built for another six hundred years).

Our friend was no vegetarian – he had eaten red deer and chamois meat in the day or so before his death, along with processed grain in the form of bread. Somehow or other he had also managed to pick up whipworm infestation – not an unusual condition where hygiene standards are poor, even to this day. Pollen in his meal showed he had died in spring and the grain for the bread must have been stored over the winter since that grain matures for harvest only in the autumn. Ötzi was no primitive hunter-gatherer; he was part of a complex society.

So just how did he come to be found dead on a mountain, then?

At first they thought he might have gone hunting or maybe shepherding and lost his way and starved. But then they found strange things. They found cuts on his hands, including a particularly deep cut on his right hand, almost to the bone. They found bruises from blows to the back of his head and neck. And then they found the tip of an arrow in his left armpit. The shaft of the arrow was gone, apparently removed, but the tip was there, and there was a corresponding slit in his leather coat, as well.

It began to look like Ötzi had been murdered...

Then they did some more analysis, and this item on the World Science site
informs me that the cut on the poor guy’s hand was suffered a couple of days before he died; and that the arrow to the armpit came much later than the hand wound because he would have survived it only for minutes to hours, even if he had had access to modern medical help. So he’d been attacked, and not just once, either – twice, at the least, he had been attacked by people out to kill him.

And he had struck back.  One of the two finished arrows in his quiver had the blood of two people on it, indicating that this arrow had been fired into two persons and then subsequently retrieved both times. Blood from a third individual was on his knife, and a fourth person had left blood on Ötzi’s leather coat.

Hmm, the shepherd or coppersmith or shaman of the early speculation begins to look rather like a mighty warrior who finally had bitten off a mite more than he could chew...

So we can sort of construct a scenario for his last fight, back then in 3300 BCE. He was part of a group (but of course; someone took care of him after that hand wound, and the blood on his coat probably came from carrying someone else, someone who was wounded) hunted and harried by a larger and more determined enemy contingent, they try a running battle to get back to safety. Ötzi himself kills several of the enemy, and does so effectively enough that on two occasions he can pick his arrow out of the enemy’s corpse so he can re-use it. Arrows are precious, more so since evidently he never found the time to finish the others he was making.

Severely wounded in his hand in close combat with the pursuing enemy, he manages to knife another, and while fleeing he carries a wounded comrade (or a comely female companion, also wounded, if it’s Hollywood telling the tale, played by Uma Thurman perhaps, the renegade daughter of the evil Dark Lord) on his back. One by one his companions fall to the enemy, but he goes on, nibbling hard bread, until even his strength flags and he can no longer carry her through the forests and snowfields. Resolutely ignoring her pleading to leave her and go, he stays by her side while the forces of the Dark Lord close in, until her life-force ebbs and she dies, clutching his wounded hand. Then he gets up and tries to flee, his manly heart breaking, but it’s far too late. Out of the trees zip enemy arrows. One slaps into his side, and, staggering, he stumbles and falls. A stone club crashes into the mighty warrior’s head – the enemy is too cowardly even to fight him now that he is strangling on his own blood. “Uma!” he gasps, and falls over, dead.

Cut to a close up of feet clad in leather shoes, approaching. A gloved hand pushes him over on his heroic dead chest, one of his arms flopping under him, and tries to pull the arrow out. It breaks off. A soft, evil-sounding curse in an evil-sounding voice. Footsteps crunch away through the remaining snow. Close-up of Ötzi lying face down in the snow.

Fade out, now, with only the slightest pause, fade in to the same scene in 1991, with German voices speaking and camera shutters vigorously clicking our hero’s mummified body.

That movie might even be not completely a lie.

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