Who Killed Otzi?

I watched the very interesting NOVA show on Otzi the Ice Mummy last night.

Otzi is the oldest mummy in Europe, dating back about 5,300 years to the very end of the Stone Age. Originally they thought he died in a storm or something, but several years after he was discovered it was found that he had been shot in the back with an arrow, and had traumatic skull injuries (and a cut on his hand) indicating a violent death.

It was an interesting show on NOVA, and it got me thinking - how did Otzi die? And why?

My guess is that he was killed by someone he knew. Not by another raiding party, nor by any of the defenders of a local village if he was one of the raiders, but by another person who he knew and who knew him.

I am basing this on a couple of things.
[ol][li]He was found with a copper axe. For people of that period, a metal implement would have been more valuable than if it were solid gold nowadays. If he were killed by a stranger, they would have taken the axe. [/li][li]Somebody pulled the arrow shaft out of him before they left him. If they had time to roll him over on his face, and pull out the arrow, they would have had time to grab the axe (and whatever else he had that was worth taking). But they didn’t. They just shot him, hit him on the head (or he fell when he was shot), and pulled out the arrow and ran away.[/ol][/li]
What are the motives for murder? AFAICT, they are money, sex, anger, or mercy killings. This wasn’t a mercy killing. It wasn’t for money (or the Stone Age equivalent) or they would have grabbed his axe and other belongings. This includes war - if Otzi attacked someone and got killed, it would be perfectly legitimate to take his goods as plunder. Likewise if some raiding party killed him - what’s the point of raiding if you don’t profit by it?

So it was either sex, or anger. I’m guessing sex.

Analysis showed that Otzi had eaten a large meal about an hour before he died. I am disinclined to get into arguments after I eat, and I doubt Stone Age people are different in that regard. So I doubt the killing was done in hot blood. This was something planned.

Here’s what I think happened.

Otzi was in his forties, and showed traces of copper and arsenic. So I imagine he was moderately successful in his culture, as these things go. All his accouterments even apart from the axe were state-of-the-art.

So I imagine a girl in his village. Young, and pretty (Otzi’s first wife died without children, since Otzi’s genotype is associated with lowered fertility), and another of the young bucks in the village has his eye on her. But her parents match her off with the rich older guy. The young buck doesn’t say anything, but he comes up with a plan. Otzi, like most of the men, spends a lot of time off hunting. The buck watches for his chance.

He follows Otzi up the mountain one morning. He waits. Around midday Otzi eats the lunch his new wife has provided. It’s a big one, so Otzi isn’t moving very fast (he has arthritis, after all). The young buck catches up with him, and confronts him. And then attacks.

Otzi is older and slower. He is getting much the worse of it, and turns to run. The young buck whips out his bow, and shoots Otzi in the back. And Otzi is dead.

The young buck can’t steal the axe. If he shows up in the village with no way to account for a new axe, awkward questions are bound to be asked. He pulls out the arrow, to try to avoid being identified by it, but the arrow head breaks off and he doesn’t have time to recover it. He’ll just leave the body - the animals will eat it before too long.

But that’s where the story ends. We never know if he gets the girl in the end, or is found out as the perpetrator of one of the earliest crime cases in Europe.

Or maybe I am completely off base. What do you think?


Caitzn, his jealous older brother.

Where else would he get her?

In the library, with the candlestick. Duh.


I’m guessing that Otzi was killed from ambush, never saw the guy who killed him.

The shot was in his back, at an angle that showed it was shot from slightly below. He had blood clots in his brain, probably caused by whoever shot him finishing him off with a blow to the head.

I agree with the fact that taking the arrow and leaving the axe showed he was killed for personal reasons. The fletching on the arrow could identify the shooter and the axe was of course very valuable and very identifiable.

However, I doubt he fought & ran. He would have known that to run from a hunter armed with a bow was suicide.

I think someone knew of his expedition across the pass, and either followed him or lay in wait accross his route, waited until he passed, and shot him in the back. Exactly why it is of course impossible to say …

Really was quite a good show, wasn’t it? Great detective work - kinda puts the CSI bunch to shame.

There was another very similiar show about a guy they found in an old bog in Europe (I think.) Anyone remember if that too was a PBS/Nova show?

whistles innocently

The butler did it.

They thought that was the oldest murder / body dump in history at the time. He was garrotted.

Otzi had a cut on the palm of his hand. I’m guessing he got that in a struggle, which makes ambush problematic.

Yes, it sure was.

I think I remember that. And another one that covered finding the body of a young girl in the Andes, or South America someplace. I thought she was a human sacrifice, which was even more depressing than the oldest murder scene in Europe.


There is no indication as to when he got it - it could be a defensive wound taken when dying on the ground (we know his killer(s) advanced on him and finished him off after shooting him). Defensive wounds in the hands in murder victims are common. If this is the case, it could argue for at least two attackers - one tried to stab him with a flint knife or some such implement after he was shot, giving him the hand-wound, while another circled around and smashed him in the head with a rock or club, killing him & causing the brain bleeding observed.

The killers then rolled him over & yanked out the arrow, leaving him in the position in which he was found.

The fact is that he was shot in the back from some distance (hence upward trajectory of the arrow). If he was fighting his attacker(s), it would make more sense for his wound to be in front, as running away from someone armed with a bow on an open mountainside would be suicidal - something he must surely have known.

I think it is more likely he was shot by surprise.

Otzi was in my town recently. Apparently he was on tour. Big posters with his face everywhere. “Come see the dead iceman!”

It creeped my out a bit. Otzi was a person, a human being, and now he’s a tourist attraction. The reverence and respect we normally show a dead body is apparently wiped out after it spends X number of milliennia in a glacier. I get the same feeling when I see Egyptian mummies. Jeez, the guy is dead, can’t we give him some privacy?

Is it just me?

Johnny Cash did it, before he moved to Reno.

I think the skirmish story makes more sense. He and his companions were involved in some sort of fight (where he obtained the hand wounds) , and then fled. Otzi got shot in the back. His friends put him on his stomach and pulled the arrow in an attempt to help him and get him back on his feet, but by that time he was too far gone and stayed on the ground.

Their adversaries then renewed their assault, bashed Otzi’s head in to make sure he didn’t get back up, and then the fight prevented anyone from looting the body, either because everyone was killed or badly wounded, or because one side or another fled and the other pursued.

I take it you haven’t heard of Body Worlds or Bodies: The Exhibition. Dead bodies as tourist attractions are pretty popular (32 million visitors just to Body Worlds let alone its copycat competitors), and these bodies aren’t even ancient, they’re mostly Chinese prisoners, er, peasants.

In short, I would love to gape at Otzi’s dead corpse. At least it’s historically significant. And if someone in 5564 wants to gape at my remains, I say go for it.

One of my relatives confessed to killing Otzi a long time ago.

My favorite story along these lines is that one of the Egyptian pharohs (I believe it was Ramses II?) ended up hanging in a Niagra Falls tourist attraction for a century or so before being identified a few years ago, and ceremoniously returned to Egypt.

Whatever afterlife he had planned, I’m pretty sure it did not involve being gawped at by tourists at two bits a gander: “see the horrifying mummy of terror!”. :smiley:

Holy crap it’s true. The mummy was Ramses I, but WOW.

I think the UN should launch an inquiry.

For what it’s worth, there’s at least some reason to believe Otzi wasn’t a particularly nice human being. First, prehistoric humans weren’t particularly nice as a rule - violence was probably common, both between men (combat over resources/territory/women) and directed towards women. (This is based on our observations of modern hunter-gatherer societies). Further, Stephen Pinker refers to an (apparently) common theory of Otzi’s death: That he was a member of a raiding party attacking another tribe, killed a couple of people (there was blood on his weapons), and was then killed himself whilst attempting retreat.

Otzi may well have richly deserved his end. And people often acknowledge that normal rules of respect for the dead don’t apply when the dead were seriously bad people. Ghaddifi, for example, was displayed in a store freezer for days.