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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 August, 2003, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Blood clues to iceman's death
The theory that Oetzi the Iceman died in a violent fight with others has received further support from scientists in Australia.

Preserved body of Otzi, the 5,000-year-old Ice Age hunter
Oetzi may have strayed into another tribe's territory and got into a fight
The researchers say their DNA study of items found with the 5,300-year-old hunter's body back up the idea that he was involved in close-quarter combat.

"We analysed samples, scrapings from the knife, the axe and from his jacket and it indicates that the blood samples are actually from several different individuals," Dr Ian Findlay, of the Australian Genome Research Facility in Brisbane, said.

Oetzi's mummified remains emerged from a melting glacier in the Alps in 1991. At first, it was thought he died from cold and hunger.

But after years of study, researchers finally discovered a flint arrowhead lodged in the ancient man's back, leading to speculation that he may have fled an attacker before bleeding to death and being encased in ice.

Ferocious battle

Then further tests on the body revealed a deep wound on Oetzi's right hand and wrist which, according to the findings, were inflicted in the last few hours of the iceman's life.

The researchers said the nature of the wounds suggested they were sustained in a fight. Evidence that Oetzi was holding a knife when he emerged from the melting glacier seemed to support this idea.

The latest work from University of Queensland scientists also fits this picture and suggests the iceman was battling several individuals just before his death.

The Australian team says the blood of two people was on an arrowhead found alongside Oetzi's body.

Dr Tom Loy, director of Queensland University's Institute of Molecular Bioscience, said Oetzi clearly gave as good as he got, firing his arrow into two of his enemies, pulling his precious weapon out of their bodies each time.

Diplomatic impasse

"He probably got into a skirmish with some other people and eventually got shot in the back," he said.

"It looks as if he may have some defensive wounds on his hands and some bruises that also indicate fairly fierce hand-to-hand combat."

But Oetzi was finally overcome and struck by an enemy arrow himself.

The iceman represents one of the great archaeological finds of the last 25 years.

His body was discovered by German tourists trekking in the Oetz Valley - hence the name.

He wore three layers of garments made from goat, deerskin and bark fibre. He had well-made shoes and a bearskin hat.

His copper-headed axe and a quiver full of arrows were lying nearby.

After a diplomatic dispute between the Austrian and the Italian authorities, the body was finally transferred to the South Tyrol Archaeological Museum in Bolzano, where it is now kept in cold storage, and subjected to intense scientific scrutiny.

Who did it?

Oetzi was about 159 centimetres (five feet, 2.5 inches) tall, 46 years old, arthritic, and infested with whipworm.

It is believed he belonged to an agricultural community based on the cereal grains found not just on his garments but recovered from his colon, which contained bran of the primitive wheat Einkorn.

Analysis of the contents of the man's intestines shows he probably dined on venison just before his death, having previously consumed cereals, plants, and ibex meat.

High levels of copper and arsenic in his hair indicate that he had been involved in copper smelting.

The presence in the body of pollen from the hophornbeam tree, which flowers in the Alps between March and June, indicates Oetzi died in the spring or early summer.

The identities of his attackers will never be known, of course. But researchers say the shape of the arrowhead inside his body is consistent with a weapon design favoured by tribes who lived on the southern Alps, in northern Italy.

The BBC's Sue Nelson
"New DNA techniques have shown that he attacked his enemies with his dagger and died of his injury"

Iceman's final meal
16 Sep 02  |  Science/Nature
Iceman's final battle
20 Mar 02  |  Science/Nature
Image of Stone Age death
07 Feb 02  |  Science/Nature


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