Inca Maiden: Expert on discovery of mummy that felt 'so alive'
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When Erika and Helmut Simon began their hike into the Ötztal Alps, little did they know it would be a life-changing day. The mountain-lovers were just beginning the final part of their trek from Fineilspitze to the Similaun hut when they made a haunting discovery. Taking a shortcut from the Tisenjoch pass in September 1991, the tourists stumbled upon the head and shoulders of a human corpse poking out of a rocky gully at an elevation of more than 3,200 metres. His left arm was twisted under his body, and skin still covered his bones.
They believed it was a recently deceased mountaineer, as did the Austrian authorities, but they couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Erika told BBC’s ‘Horizon’ documentary in February 2002: “My husband walked in front of me a bit and then suddenly he stopped and said ‘look at what’s lying there’, and I said ‘oh, it’s a body’.
“Then my husband took a photograph, just one, the last we had left in the camera.”
Helmut added: “We thought it was a mountain climber or a skier who’d had an accident perhaps 10 years previously or perhaps two years previously.”
Given the assumption he had only recently died, little care was taken removing the man, who later became known as Ötzi, after the mountain region where he was discovered.
The day after the Simon’s made the discovery, a mountain gendarme and keeper of the nearby Similaunhütte first attempted to extract the body with a pneumatic drill and ice axes, but had to give up due to bad weather.
It was semi-officially removed two days later, and finally salvaged on September 23.
The extraction process had punctured the man’s hip.
His body was taken to a morgue in nearby Innsbruck, alongside the items he carried with him.
Among the items retrieved were a copper axe, a flint dagger and retoucher (used for sharpening flint blades), a birch bark container presumably used for carrying charcoal, and an unfinished longbow with arrows and a quiver.
His extensive and practical equipment suggested a wide-ranging knowledge about wilderness survival.
The axe, the only one of its kind in the world, was in excellent condition and provided vital information about how axes were made in the Copper Age.
An initial examination from Konrad Spindler, an expert in pre- and early history at Innsbruck University, estimated the body to be “at least 4000 years old”.
Carbon dating later revealed Ötzi’s body was more than 5,300 years old.
More specific estimates, using tissue samples, stated there was a 66% chance he died between 3239 and 3105 BC.
A Smithsonian Channel documentary explained Ötzi walked the earth nearly 1000 year before the Great Pyramids of Egypt were built, and the last populations of woolly mammoths still roamed in Siberia at the time of his death.
Analysis revealed Ötzi was in his mid-40s when he died. He was around 5’5 (165cm) tall and weighed just 38 kgs (5.9 stone).
CT scans on his body showed three bouts of sickness in the six months prior to his death, and DNA investigations revealed he was lactose intolerant.
He had a total of 61 tattoos, most of which had a medicinal or therapeutic function, according to a study in the Journal of Cultural Heritage.
Ötzi was initially thought to have died of hypothermia.
One historian told the Smithsonian Channel: “The theory was that he just went up there, even just by chance, or maybe he took the wrong way, and then he died of exhaustion and because of the cold weather and so on.”
However, 10 years after the initial discovery, a team of specialists came to a different conclusion.
Paul Gostner, one of those involved in studying the mummy, told New Scientist in July 2001 that scans showed a flint arrowhead buried deep in his left shoulder, which would have hit numerous large blood vessels.
Mr Gostner said: “If he was running he would be bleeding a lot. He probably died from loss of blood.”
The arrowhead lies between the shoulder bone and ribs, and only appears on a scan of Ötzi’s side owing to its position, hence it might have been missed previously.
Mr Gostner speculated: “It’s impossible to say if he was killed by mistake or in war or for some other reason. We can only say it wasn’t suicide.”
Until 2018, Ötzi held the title of the world’s oldest tattooed individual. The discovery of 5,000-year-old Egyptian mummies saw him lose his title.
Shockingly, claims have been made that Ötzi is “cursed”. These allegations revolve around the deaths of several of those connected to the discovery, recovery and analysis of his body.
To date, the premature deaths of seven people, including Helmut Simon and Konrad Spindler, have been attributed to the “curse”, according to The Telegraph.
In reality, however, hundreds were involved in the recovery and subsequent analysis of his body.
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