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The Day I Saw The Iceman

Linda Hagstrom from PA

On a trip to Europe, in September 2005, I was able to view "The Iceman" at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy.

Archaeology is one of my interests, and for years I have been fascinated with the story of The Iceman. The Italians call him Otzi, with two dots over the O. He was found in 1991 in the Otzal Alps in Italy near the border with Austria. He lived and died about 5,300 years ago and his body and belongings had been covered and protected by a glacier that had recently melted. The Iceman's clothing and belongings were surprisingly similar to those used by us today, and beautifully crafted with technology we still use today. The Iceman himself also was amazingly like us in many ways.

The Iceman has been of interest to me ever since he was found, and I have read all the books and articles I could find about him, as more scientific investigations were carried out over the years after his discovery. Now he and his possessions can be viewed in a museum created especially for him in Bolzano, Italy.

On my September 2005 trip, I was spending a week hiking in the hills surrounding Lake Garda in northern Italy, based in Limone. Part of the reason that I had planned to hike in this area was to be close enough to visit The Iceman. Bolzano, Italy turned out to be a very pretty northern Italian town, reachable by train from Verona. Located in the foothills of the Italian Dolomite mountains, it's more German than Italian in appearance. There are many beautiful buildings. I also noticed bike paths all over town, and many bicycle riders.

Street market in Bolzano

Street market in Bolzano

The museum dedicated to The Iceman is right in town. The day I was there, I rented an English-language earphone set which described every item. It was a big help.

The museum is devoted to The Iceman, and what a treasure he is, and his belongings. Can you believe that he was found with a copper axe, causing the date of the start of the Copper Age to be set back by 500 years? In the museum, you can view The Iceman himself. He is kept in a very cold room, to preserve his body, and you can look at him through a window about the size of a TV.

Even better are the clothes he was wearing and the gear he carried. All these items are the real thing, not models, and very well-displayed. His clothes include beautifully tailored leggings, leather coat, grass cape, bearskin hat. I was especially entranced with his footwear. A woven grass net had been stuffed with hay to nestle the foot and keep it warm. It was all covered with a sewn leather shoe. It was amazing to me to see how accomplished people were at that early date.

The Iceman was well-prepared to walk high in the mountains. In addition to his warm clothing, he carried an array of equipment. Many of the things in his kit reminded me of the hiking gear I carried when hiking in the area.

He had the wonderful copper axe head, well attached to a wooden handle. It was even shaped just like an axe you could buy at the hardware store today! A knife made from a flint blade and wooden handle had a woven grass scabbard with a slit for attachment to his belt. He carried a six-foot longbow which he hadn't quite finished making.

His quiver had a side pocket, and contained 12 rough arrows and two finished arrows with flint arrowheads. He carried a backpack, two cylindrical birch-bark containers with burning embers to start a fire, and several other necessary and beautifully-crafted pieces of equipment.

The Iceman's body is tattooed in more than 50 places. There are groups of straight lines on both sides of his spine and several groups of lines on his legs and feet. Scientists now believe that the tattoos may be to aid in pressure point location for acupuncture.

Otzi is continually being examined by scientists, and in 2001 they made an amazing discovery by X-ray: an arrowhead is lodged in his back! They now believe the arrow caused his death.

The museum is very well done. The clothing items, for example, are shown with comments about the stitching, the kind of leather or fur, a drawing of the coat (for example) as it would have looked 5,300 years ago. Everything is very accessible - you can get close and really see the objects, and there is no rush to move on to the next fascinating artifact.

He and his equipment are truly a treasure, and will be invaluable in helping us to learn about life 5,300 years ago. They also show us that many of the things we use today (knife, axe, backpack, tattooing, needle and thread, arrows with feathers, knife and sheath) were already being beautifully made 5,300 years ago very much like the way we make them now, and that people at that early time had already figured out what to take with them for a day hiking in the mountains.

I was very lucky to see The Iceman. I hope you get the chance to see him too!


www.archaeologiemuseum.it: The South Tyrol Museum of Archeology's website has photos of the Iceman and information on the hours the museum is open, how to get there, etc.

I love Europe and above all Italy. I generally make my own arrangements and travel alone. For me, the planning (particularly since the Internet) is half the fun. I also enjoy the challenge of traveling in Italy by myself. Other than that, I am sane.

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