PBS recently aired an intriguing documentary covering an investigation into the death of earth’s oldest cold case. Ötzi, named for the Ötztal Mountains in which he was discovered just 100 yards from the border of Austria and Italy in September 1991, is believed to be the oldest intact human body ever found. Apparently murdered, his body was then frozen for millennia—5,300 years according to the program. Can modern forensic science provide answers explaining Ötzi’s death? How and why was he killed? Was he a fugitive on the run, killed in battle, or murdered by an acquaintance?
Soon after being discovered, Ötzi’s remains were displayed in a custom-made frozen crypt at a museum in Bolzano, Italy, where they can still be seen today. The lone exception to his days in this cold enclosure came in November, 2010, when a team of nearly two dozen researchers came together for an in-depth investigation of the “iceman.” Ötzi was thawed out for nine hours, during which time he essentially received an autopsy as the scientists attempted to solve many of the mysteries surrounding his death. The PBS program showed footage from these procedures and interviewed some of the scientists, allowing them to explain their findings.
In 2001 a radiologist studying the original CT scans of Ötzi noticed something everyone else had assumed was a bone. Lodged deep in the mummy’s shoulder was an arrowhead. For the first time, researchers realized Ötzi’s death came about from more sinister circumstances than being lost in a snowstorm, as had originally been assumed by some researchers. Instead, he had been killed by another person. So the team carefully extracted the stone arrowhead and performed additional examinations.