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Questions about Europe

Would you please help me find an example of a man of the Neolithic Age?

Dr. dig responds:

Here is just the Neolithic man for you! He is called the Ice Man and his frozen remains were recently discovered in the Alps. A lot of research has been done on his remains and of the items he was carrying before his unfortunate death on the snow-covered mountains.

There are now several books on the Ice Man that you should be able to find in your school or public library. The books are well illustrated and will tell you all about his discovery and conservation. To find him in your library look in the card catalogue under the heading "ICE MAN" or search for him on the web.

Where did Otzi come from?

Dr. dig responds:

Ötzi the Ice Man was found near Hauslabjoch in the Ötzal Alps in September 1991 by two walkers. The Ice Man died approximately 5200 years ago. At death he was between 40 and 50 years old and suffered from a number of medical conditions. He turned into a mummy accidentally almost immediately by the freezing weather conditions that turned him into the Ice Man. Scientists believe that Ítzi was caught in a heavy snowfall, fell asleep, and froze to death. Scientists have concluded this because there were no signs of predator attacks. They believe that the body must have been covered with snow almost immediately.

How old was Ötzi?

Dr. dig responds:

If Ötzi were alive today, he would be about 5,300 years old! Archaeologists have determined that Ötzi was an adult male between 25 and 40 when he died.

How can you tell that the "iceman" is about 5,300 years old?

Dr. dig responds:

The first clues to how old the Ice Man was came from many of the tools and objects found with him. The stone ax and stone knife found with him were similar to other stone tools found elsewhere and which are thousands of years old.

A more exact date was given using a scientific test called Carbon 14 dating that can tell the age of almost anything that ever lived - dead animals, dead people, plants, or things like cloth, which comes from living matter. The Carbon 14 dating test showed that the Ice Man must be about 5,300 years old.

How cold was it when the iceman was found?

Dr. dig responds:

The iceman was found at the end of a warm summer in the Alps. Usually the Alps are covered in snow, even in summer, but it had been an especially warm year and a great deal of the snow and ice had melted. Temperatures, therefore, must have been above freezing (32 degrees fahrenheit or above) for numbers of weeks in order for him to have been exposed.

I do not actually know what the temperature was on the day he was found, but the temperatures must have remained around freezing because the ice mummy did not rot and he had to be extracted from the ice with a jack hammer!

Are Ötzi's internal organs still intact or have they taken him apart to study him? Does the ice man have any legs? What is the coolest looking artifact?

Dr. dig responds:
Archaeologists have not taken the ice man apart to study him, although they have examined the contents of his stomach and other internal organs by taking tiny samples of his body and looking at the remains under the microscope. The ice man's legs are still intact.

Ötzi's ax was made of copper which provided archaeologists with the best clue in determining the age of Otzi's body. The Ice Man and his big copper ax were more than 5,000 years old!

Why was the "iceman" so well preserved?

Dr. dig responds:
We put food in the freezer to help it keep longer. Freezing slows down the rotting process. Our home freezers aren't very cold though, and after six months or so, the frozen food eventually goes off - or begins to rot. But inside glaciers and in some very, very cold places where the temperature is really cold and the ice never melts, remains of plants and animals are preserved, sometimes for thousands of years. As long as the remains are kept completely frozen, the process of decay cannot take place. When Otzi was removed from the ice, his body quickly began to rot and scientists had to put him into a deep freezer. His remains are now on display in a museum in Italy - but bring your coat - the room where he is kept is climate controlled and cold to keep him from decaying any further.

What messages does the evidence of multiple types of Moss and Plants give us about the Iceman?

Dr. dig responds:
From an analysis of the plant remains in his little satchel, the moss stuffed in his boots, the contents of his stomach, archaeologists have been able to make some pretty good guesses about where he comes from, what he ate, his health, and more generally about the ancient environment of the Alps. From an identification of the mosses, for example, archaeologists believe that he came from a nearby valley in Italy where these mosses grow in abundance today.

You can find out even more if you go to the following resources:

Jim Dickson, the archaeobotanist who studied the plant remains recovered from Ötzi's body wrote these two very informative websites, though they are somewhat scholarly. www.gla.ac.uk/Acad/IBLS/DEEB/jd/otzi.htm and www.gla.ac.uk/Acad/IBLS/DEEB/jd/iceman.htm

Nova Online: www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/icemummies/iceman.html

How are you going to find out how the Ice Man died?

Dr. dig responds:
Archaeologists believe that the Ice Man died from the cold and his frozen body lay where it died until it was found in 1991.

We cannot ever know the exact circumstances of his death because the Ice Man can't tell us himself! But we can make some good guesses based on where he was found, what he was wearing, the condition of his body, and even the contents of his stomach which tells us what he last had to eat.

How do they know what he looked like?

Dr. dig responds:
Archaeologists can guess what Otzi may have looked like from the shape of his skull, his teeth and jawline, the color of his hair which survives and any other remaining features. The way archaeologists are able to recreate the likenesses of ancient people from their remains is called forensic archaeology. Forensic archaeology is based on methods used by policemen when they need to identify murder victims.

How tall was the Ice Man?

Dr. dig responds:
Judging from the remains of his body and the size and strength of his bones, the ice man was approximately 5 feet 2 inches tall - about the size of most of your sixth graders, in fact!

What do you think is the best book about Otzi the ice man?

Dr. dig responds:

Frozen Man (1994) by David Getz is a well-researched book about Ötzi for children. Five chapters take the reader through the Ice Man's discovery in the Ötzal Alps near the Italian-Austrian border, the dating of the body, the first autopsies and tests of the body, his clothing and equipment, and an imagining of his last day. The only problem is that it is somewhat out-of-date (mostly the last chapter on his imaginary last day--since new findings have put this scenario in doubt). Still, it is the best book about Ötzi for children. Well-written and easy to follow, the book is most suited for children in grades 3-6. Four color photos and many line drawings and charts. With glossary and pronunciation guide, bibliography, and index.

So much has happened to Ötzi in the last few years that many books are out of date. Recent findings have altered scientists original impression. Keep on the look out for newer books that rely on up to the minute information to find out more about this remarkable mummy!

A list of resources will be found on the website of The Mummy Tombs when you go to www.mummytombs.com. You may also want to visit Nova Online to read a reporters account of the discovery at www.pbs.org.

Who were the people that stumbled on Ötzi and did they get any money for finding him?

Dr. dig responds:

The Iceman was discovered by accident by hikers in the Alps. Though they received a lot of attention for their discovery, they did not receive any money for finding him. I do not know for certain whether or not newspapers paid them for interviews.

See also All about Ötzi the Ice Man


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