The mummified body of Similaun Man, more commonly known as Ötzi the Iceman, was discovered exactly 20 years ago (the anniversary is on 19th September). Yet never has there been more interest in this potential ancestor of ours than in the last few months, in anticipation of the results of his genome.
I heard only yesterday (from my wife, as I don't follow the celebrity gossips) that Brad Pitt had a tattoo of Ötzi on his left forearm. Rumour has it that it is Angelina Jolie who wanted him to have it and that she draw it herself. It means that the famous couple is also following news about Ötzi. Was it her role as Lara croft that got Jolie interested in archaeology or was it a prior interest that made her take the role ? That much I don't know. But it certainly makes archaeology and ancient DNA look a bit more glamorous and trendy.
Another well-known public figure that caught an interest in our Copper Age mummy is Bill Bryson, one of my favourite authors. In his newly released book At Home, he dedicated six full pages (first part of chapter 17, pp. 527-532 in my edition) to Ötzi the Iceman. His description of his possessions is the most interesting and detailed I have read so far. Here is an excerpt :
The description continues. The part about the shoes is especially interesting, but you will have to buy the book, as I can't just copy the whole six pages. It's well worth it anyway - the best book I have read this year.Originally Posted by Bill Bryson, At Home
The important elements in the description is that Ötzi was indubitably both a hunter and a herder (of goat and cattle). He didn't really come from the Remedello culture in North Italy as he was a member of the Danubian metallurgists who migrated to North Italy, bringing a new Copper Age culture with them.
Ötzi had an arrowhead buried in his shoulder and had the blood of four other people on his clothes. There is a good chance that he was killed in a skirmish. Bill Bryson wonders what he was doing at such high altitude (over 3000 metres) in the first place, and how comes that none of his valued possessions (including his copper axe) were not stolen by his aggressors ?
My hypothesis is that Ötzi grew up on the other side of the Alps, and when he crossed them (probably not alone, but with a whole clan on the move), locals attacked the newcomers to protect their territory. Ötzi probably didn't die directly from the arrow, but more likely of exhaustion or from an infected wound, as he was retreating into the mountains. He probably died alone, which explains why nobody (friend or foe) took any of his possessions and why he wasn't properly buried.