Ötzi died of arterial injury

Researchers determine the cause of death for the famous man from the ice

Frank Rühli examines Ötzi. © South Tyrolean Archaeological Museum
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In 1991, a glacier mummy more than 5, 000 years old was discovered in the Ötztal Alps. Ötzi, as the man from the ice was called from there, had been struck down by an arrow. But why exactly did the Iceman die? That was unclear until now. Now an Italian-Swiss research team has determined the exact cause of death with the latest X-ray technology. Thereafter, injury to a large, shoulder-level artery was responsible for the death of Ötzi. The scientists report on their findings in the journal "Journal of Archaeological Science".

The Eismann is a unique well-preserved late Neolithic glacier mummy, which was found in 3, 210 meters altitude in South Tyrol. Scientists have carried out a great deal of research in recent years, as human bodies are the best archive for studying the conditions of ancient life but also for the evolutionary development of today's diseases.

In 2005, the glacier mummy was then Frank Rühli of the Anatomical Institute of the University of Zurich in close cooperation with Dr. med. Eduard Egarter Vigl, Primary for Pathology and Conservation Officer at the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology Bolzano; Patrizia Pernter and dr. Paul Gostner from the Radiology Department of the Central Hospital of Bolzano using a state-of-the-art multislice computer tomograph (CT) in South Tyrol.

The CT image analysis revealed an injury to the posterior wall of the left subclavian artery - subclavian artery - through the previously discovered arrowhead, which had become stuck in the chest cavity. The image analysis also showed a large bruise in the surrounding tissues.

Diagnosis without autopsy

The inclusion of historical and modern data on the probability of survival after such a serious injury, the scientists believe the clear conclusion that the man from the ice died of this injury within a short time. "Such clear evidence of a fatal vascular injury to a body from this period is unique and has contributed in the present case to clarify this extraordinary death, " explains Rühli. display

The non-invasive CT scan allowed the diagnosis of the cause of death without a destructive autopsy. As Rühli further said, the now more elucidable circumstances of death and the finding of the man from the ice are being investigated further and the results will be published shortly.

(idw - University of Zurich, 11.06.2007 - DLO)