Though he died 5300 years ago in the Alps near the Austrian-Italian border, the prehistoric man known as Ã–tzi the Iceman has had a remarkable afterlife in the sciences. His mummified body chiseled out of ice in 1991 has undergone extensive examination, revealing details about his life and times. The work has offered a glimpse into the everyday life of Alpine inhabitants in the late 4th millennium BC.
A paper published Wednesday in PLOS One reveals the extent to which the Iceman maintained his tools and arrows, and adds to the research on the trade networks of the time.
Ã–tziâ€™s tools were stored in his belt pouch. Several of them were designed to cut plants and soft wood and had been re-sharpened multiple times, the paper says. Others were proto tools, the blades still being formed and sharpened by the Iceman.
The scientists give Ã–tzi a â€œ6 or 7 out of 10â€� for his tool work. The rating â€œsignifies a level of skill that is just effective enough to achieve correct results in retouching and re-sharpening,â€� writes the team, led by Ursula Wierer, a scientist at the Superintendence for Archaeological Heritage of Tuscany in Italy.
Researchers also examined a 5-inch dagger found near the Icemanâ€™s body. They contend it was made not by him but a craftsman â€œof medium to good skill in pressure flaking.â€� To keep the dagger sharp and ready, Ã–tzi used a pencil-shaped tool, made from a deer antler and wood.
The tool, which scientists call a retoucher, apparently served Ã–tzi well for a long time. â€œThe wooden handle is intensely worn with several rounded and damaged parts,â€� the researchers say. â€œThe apex of the antler tip bears small incisions caused by use.â€�
Surprisingly, the dagger was not used to cut plants or wood, the analysis shows. Based on their placement in burials and depictions in art during the Copper Age, when Ã–tzi lived, daggers probably held symbolic significance.
â€œThe items could have represented a distinctive sign for the social identity of its owner,â€� the authors write. People who met Ã–tzi likely noticed the dagger. â€œKeeping it in a dedicated scabbard equipped with a leather eyelet,â€� they write, â€œÃ–tzi could indeed have carried it in view, fixed on an outer belt.â€�
Previous scholarship has shown that the alpine settlements of the Copper Age were part of a vast trade network. Itâ€™s been revealed, for example, that the copper from Ã–tziâ€™s axe came from Central Italy, hundreds of miles south.
The teamâ€™s work builds on this research. Most of the tools and arrows the researchers examined were made of chert, a sedimentary rock. Chert was mined in three different areas in the Southern Alps, suggesting an extensive trade network, the paper says. The style of the tools indicates contact with cultures across the region.
Ã–tziâ€™s life ended when he was about 45 years old. He was killed by a Southern Alps archer who might have tracked him into the mountains. The Icemanâ€™s body was quickly covered by snow and ice, his final resting place a two-day walk from his valley home.