Out of the ice and into the light: The unique witness from the Copper Age
Rekonstruktion von Ötzi. © Südtiroler Archäologiemuseum www.iceman.it
Reconstruction of Ötzi © from the South Tyrol Archeological Museum www.iceman.it
In 1991, tourists stumbled on one of the most important archeological discoveries of our time some 3,200 meters above sea level: Ötzi the Iceman. Since his discovery, the 5,000 year-old witness from the Copper Age has been the object of research for scientists throughout the world. This has been made possible by a clever refrigeration and preservation system linked to weighing technology from METTLER TOLEDO.
Imagine a spring day some 5,000 years ago. Tired from hunting at 3,000 meters above sea level and escaping his pursuers, a man rests. He eats a hearty meal to get his strength back when he suddenly feels pain in his left shoulder. An arrow…his pursuers…they found him. The tip of the arrow injures his shoulder and hits a major blood vessel. He falls to the ground and bleeds to death within a few minutes.
Natural mummy from the Copper Age
The violent death suffered by the Iceman is not the only thing that has been scientifically proven since his discovery. For more than 20 years, scientists from across the globe have been engaged in research on the natural mummy. They have scanned it from head to toe and learned some very interesting facts. Thanks to carbon dating—a method used to determine the age of organic material—we now know how old the mummy really is. The Iceman lived in the Copper Age, between 3350 and 3100 BC, a time when copper provided the impetus for fundamental scientific and social change in Europe. The copper axe that the 45 year-old man carried with him also gives an indication of his high social status.
Springtime blossom and cardiovascular diseases
Researchers have also determined the time of his death. They found 30 different types of pollen in his intestines, most of which were from plants that blossom between March and June. The contents of his stomach—mountain goat, grains of cereal, parts of leaves—and their degree of digestion also indicate that he ate shortly before his death. In 2011, scientists discovered 5,000 year-old red blood cells in the mummy and in 2012 were then able to unlock the key to the Iceman's genome. He had brown eyes and hair, a predisposition toward cardiovascular diseases, a borreliosis infection, and he was lactose intolerant.
Research for the future
These findings are not only of interest to archaeologists, paleopathologists and paleobotanists. They are also useful to the field of medicine, as the unlocking of his genome shows that—in contrast to what was previously assumed— – cardiovascular diseases are definitely not diseases of modern society. This knowledge allows scientists to research the development of these diseases more effectively. Ötzi, as the Iceman was affectionately named based on where he was found in the Ötztal Alps in the South Tyrol area of Italy, is also set to remain an important research subject in future.
Weight control in the refrigeration chamber
A clever refrigeration and preservation system has made this possible. After spending the first seven years following his discovery at the Institute of Anatomy at the University of Innsbruck, Ötzi's home since 1998 has been a refrigeration chamber designed specifically for him at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bozen. This chamber provides a constant -6°C and 98% humidity atmosphere, precisely simulating the conditions of the glacier where he was found. The 16 kg. (35 lb.) mummy lies on a METTLER TOLEDO weighing table, which registers any change in weight.
The System is made up of a KCC150 weighing platform, which is connected to a JAGUARTM Terminal (was replaced by an IND780 Terminal in 2001). This continuously stores the data and transmits it to a monitoring system, which in turn controls and monitors the whole weighing process. If the system detects a gap in the data, it immediately triggers an alarm and dials the predefined emergency numbers. If the refrigeration and preservation system should ever fail, there is a second, identical chamber located right next to it. This ensures that the witness from the Copper Age will remain preserved indefinitely, with his weight being continually monitored.
Das Wägesystem ist im Untergestell des Tisches. © Südtiroler Archäologiemuseum/M.Samadelli