Testimony from the Iceman

The 5,000-plus-year-old Neolithic man discovered a decade ago is telling scientists how he lived and died

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As he fled upward through forests of larch and pine, he might have sipped water from one of the many rivulets flowing from the glacier above as he passed beyond the tree line, then beyond the vegetation line, where the grass and wildflowers disappear. Somewhere he would have been shot in the back, presumably from below, because the entry wound is beneath the position of the arrowhead.


But no scenario answers all the questions raised by the evidence. If someone shot and killed him, why did the assailant leave a valuable ax with the body? If Otzi had a disabling cut in his right hand, why was he clutching his dagger in it? Egarter does not pretend to know. “My only hypothesis,” he tells me later, “is that for whatever reason, Otzi thought he would be safer on the mountain than he was in the valley.”


It may be that Egarter will unravel some of this mystery with new tests. The investigation of the man in the ice has revealed a great deal about the Neolithic era. But it has also, unexpectedly, revealed the fallibility of our own science. There are many things about Otzi, I suspect, that we are fated never to know.

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