In 1991, German hikers found a surprise on an Alpine trail: a dead body. It turned out the man had died some time ago–around 5,000 years earlier. Researchers guessed from his scattered belongings that the iceman had died a lonely death from the cold and an arrow wound in his shoulder. But now, based on the way his belongings were scattered and the timing of his last meal, some archaeologists think the iceman named Ötzi may have had a proper funeral.
Though many previous studies have looked at the body itself, ScienceNOW reports that archaeologist Alessandro Vanzetti and his team looked at all of the iceman’s gear. They used a modeling technique called spatial point pattern analysis to make a map of how Ötzi’s goods–including axe, dagger, quiver, backpack, and unfinished bow–got to their final resting places. Specifically, the analysis determines how Ötzi’s surroundings froze and thawed over time. The researchers say the scattering is consistent with a ceremonial burial and that Ötzi’s tribe may have placed his possessions around him on a nearby stone platform. The study, which ScienceNOW calls “provocative,” appears in Antiquity Journal.
Vanzetti’s team thinks this spatial analysis is consistent with evidence that Ötzi ate his last meal in April, while the pollen in the ice around him appears to have come from September or August–a sign that his burial crew waited for the ground to thaw. Others are skeptical, saying, among other things, that there is no evidence anyone moved Ötzi after death.
Regardless of whether or not he died cold and alone, Ötzi is now sitting pretty in a refrigerated tomb in Italy’s South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano (pictured above).
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