Otzi, Man of Copper

In 1991 a couple were hiking in the Orztai Alps, on the Austrian/Italy border, going slightly off trail. They found what appeared to be a hikers body in a crevasse, with his lower body still encased in ice. They hurried back to the lodge to report they had found a hiker from several seasons ago, and that the body was still mostly frozen.

Five days later an archaeologist determined that the body was approximately four thousand years old based upon the style of copper ax that was found with his remains.

The Age of Copper only lasted about 2000 years. Of course stone tools existed before copper, and they existed all through the Age of Copper, and still were in existence well after the Bronze Age. New technology does not completely replace old technology in an instant.

The generally agreed upon standard is that the Age of Copper was from 3500 BC to about 2300 BC. Although in some places copper smelting may have occurred several thousands of years earlier.

Otzi lived about two or three generations after copper became widely known. In fact, the Battle Ax culture had stone axes that were shaped like copper long before they had copper. For Otzi this was new technology, incredible technology. Otzi had a copper ax. This would have been as if he had an iPhone and everybody else had public phone booths.

Otzi was not a thief, at least he didn’t have to steal the ax. From chemical analysis of his hair they found trace elements of copper and arsenic. Considering that the copper ax was 99.7% pure, it was concluded that Otzi worked it, smelting the copper from natural formations or copper ore.

For at least 3.3 million years humans have used stone tools. We had used the rocks as they were, and after a million years we had developed very good flaking techniques. Two million years later we had the knapping technique down pat, and include notches the tie the stones to shafts or wooden handles.

Otzi probably did this as a young man. But now he was a man of copper, he didn’t have to flake or knap, he poured liquid copper into a mold, then hammered the result. Conquering metal was the first step in the race to the future.

The mummified corpse of Otis has been poked, prodded, x-rayed and scanned more than any living human. They have discovered what he had eaten for the last week and even what he ate just hours before his death. They looked at his teeth, his nails, the 61 tattoos on his body. Everything together gave a fairly complete picture of a man that was very used to going for long walks in the mountains.

One possible story for Otis, is that he was traveling with one or more friends when they were attacked by another party. There were four different blood types found through DNA testing. Two different types were found on one arrowhead that was found with him. This could have meant that Otis had killed or wounded one individual, then retrieved the arrow to wound of kill another. Another blood type was found on his flint bladed knife, he still used stone tools. The fourth blood type was found on the back of his coat, which may have come from carrying a wounded comrade.

We are not sure how far he carried his friend, there was no trace of other bodies. It might not have been very far because was thought to have bled to death from an arrow found in his shoulder. The shaft was missing but the arrowhead was deep in the shoulder, causing massive hemorrhaging. There were also cuts and bruises that were made shortly before death. Ottis had collapsed on his stomach, perhaps in order to pull out the arrow shaft.

Whoever killed Ottis did not take his clothes, his quiver of arrows, his shoes, or his fabulous copper ax. It is possible that they were thankful that he was dying and they were still alive. So Otis lost blood, lost consciousness, and froze in place for the next 5000 years.

We do know a few things. His clothes were very specialized and high tech for the times. At least four different skins were used for different purposes, his cloak was of woven grass. His leather loin cloth and coat were made from sheepskin. His leggings were made from goat, and his hat from bear. His shoes had top sides of deer and the sole was bear. The shoes were so well designed that a Czech company asked for the rights to reproduce them.

We also know that Ottis ate a large amount of grain, probably as bread and that he was lactose intolerant. Wheat, barley, flax and poppy were all present. He had also portions of antelope and deer meat that were eaten just hours before his death.

From the pollen evidence, it is thought that Otzi died in the summer, and was frozen that winter, completely covered in ice.

As far as we know there were no towns or cities. Villages probably were know for their specialized trade goods. Leather produced here, metal workers in another village. The constant travel meant that communication was widespread. It also meant that travelers could be set upon be those that wanted your goods if they could take your life.

We don’t know what Otzi and his friends carried, all we know is that Otzi never completed his trip.

Oh, by the way, DNA testing found 19 living relatives of Otzi in the local area.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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2 Responses to Otzi, Man of Copper

  1. Hans De Keulenaer says:

    The genius of man in the stone and copper ages was such that we can’t hold a candle to them. If we were thrown back in time with all our knowledge today, most of us wouldn’t survive for very long.

    • johndiestler says:

      Survival? Much of my life has had survival as a background shadow. When I was twenty-one I buried food up in a Northern California lava bed area. A place a natural springs, where Captain Jack Modoc held off the US Army for several years. It was foolish. Later, when I was under the mountain in a nuclear bunker, with years of storage K-rations lining the walls, I realized that the US government was foolish.
      Surviving should never be the goal. Living, growing, progressing is much more ambitious. Surviving, by itself is just extended dying.

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