A sharp incision in his right eye may have contributed to the rapid demise of Ötzi the Iceman, the famous mummy who died in the Italian Alps more than 5,000 years ago. Twenty years after two hikers stumbled upon the Iceman in a melting glacier, new analyses have revealed that a deep cut likely led to heavy bleeding in the man’s eye. In the cold, high-altitude conditions where he was found, that kind of injury would have been tough to recover from. The official opinion remains that an arrow in his left shoulder was the cause of death for Ötzi. But the new study raises the possibility — for some, at least — that he fell over after being shot by an arrow. And, at higher than 10,000 feet in elevation, his alpine fall may have made the situation much worse.
“Maybe he fell down or maybe he had a fight up there, nobody knows,” said Wolfgang Recheis, a physicist in the radiology department at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. “With this cut alone, at 3,250 meters, it would have been a deadly wound up there. Bleeding to death in the late afternoon when it was getting cold up there, this could be really dangerous.”
Ever since his discovery in 1991, Ötzi has been measured, photographed, X-rayed, CT-scanned and endlessly speculated about. The Iceman Photoscan website allows anyone to scrutinize every inch of the body, which belonged to a 5’3″, 110-pound, 45-year old man. Ten years ago, researchers found a flint arrowhead buried in Ötzi’s left shoulder blade inside a two-centimeter (0.8-inch) wide hole. They concluded that the arrow pierced a major artery and killed him within minutes. At a conference in September, experts reaffirmed that assessment.
But in one of the latest studies, Recheis used the most advanced CT-scanning technology available to take a closer look at Ötzi’s right eye. Earlier examinations had shown a crack in the skull in that spot. The new work revealed a deep incision in the same place.