The Curse of the 5,000 Year Old Frozen Iceman

September 19th, 1991. Two German hikers were on their way up through the Ötztal Alps when they discovered a well-preserved human mummy – the oldest ever found in Europe. The controversial discovery was made in Hauslabjoch, on the border between Austria and Italy. It led to numerous hypotheses regarding how old the man was he when he died, how he died, in what state of health he was when he met his unfortunate end, and above all what he doing there high in the snow-covered Alps.

otziPhoto: © South Tyrol Museum of ArchaeologyÖtzi shortly after the discovery of the body in September 1991, when it was still frozen in the glacier and had not yet been removed

Also known as the Tyrolean Ice Man, Ötzi was found to be about 45 years old when he died and was discovered equipped with many tools such as a stone axe, an unfinished bow stave, a leather quiver, and a backpack frame made of larch and hazel. At the time, some of these items were only supposed to have been in use about a thousand years ago. A lot of research has been done on Ötzi’s frozen remains, and archaeologists believe that he perhaps existed during the Neolithic Copper-Age Transition in Central Europe more than 5,000 years ago.

The study of Ötzi’s bodily tissues indicate the his death perhaps occurred somewhere around 3,200 BC. (Radiocarbon dating is a technique used to determine the age of ancient archeological objects as old as 50,000 years old.)

The controversy: Was Ötzi a shaman or a shepherd?

Like I said, Ötzi’s body was remarkably well-preserved, as was his clothing. It soon became a serious matter of discussion among scientists, researchers and archaeologists as to whether he had been a shaman or a shepherd? The first theory says that since Ötzi was found equipped with tools such as arrow shafts, a longbow made of yew and a stone knife, perhaps he was simply a shepherd. However, not everyone agrees.


bearskin cap and shoesPhoto: © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeologybearskin cap and shoes

quiver and its contents with some arrowsPhoto: © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeologyquiver and its contents with some arrows


dagger with some minerals and toolsPhoto: © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeologydagger with some minerals and tools

Detailed examination of moss recovered from the body reveals that he was a resident of Vinschgau, south of the Alps. Other significant objects found with or near him were a copper axe with a yew handle, a chamois hide quiver, a flint sharpener, an animal hide, and a scabbard. Pollen found suggests that he died in early autumn, which also matches data gathered from his clothing remains.

His poncho, leggings and shoes were made of goatskin and his cap from bear fur. Also found was a grass mat woven from swamp grass, while his leather shoes were stuffed with grass for warmth as well. This all indicates that perhaps he was out hunting when an early winter storm made him a victim of misadventure.


However, another theory suggests that the purpose of his journey to the high mountains was to communicate with the spirit world. Ötzi was also found equipped with a perforated bead of white marble with twisted leather tassels. Furthermore, he had a few body tattoos and some unfinished hunting equipment, which together might support the idea that he was a ritual specialist. Though the idea of him being a shaman is only supported by the unique discoveries made near him, it cannot be overlooked, as bright (or polished) stones are often held to have spiritual power. Walter Leitner, from the University of Innsbruck, Austria has come forward with an interesting theory which suggests that Ötzi was a shaman and was killed by his enemies in order to end his reign.

Innocent victims of Ötzi’s curse

Alongside the many rumors in the air regarding Ötzi’s death, it is also said that because of a curse around Ötzi, people are somehow dying one by one.

According to, since Ötzi’s discovery, seven people associated with him have been found dead.
•Rainer Henn, 64, forensic pathologist, University of Innsbruck, was killed in a car accident. He was on his way to a conference about his research work.
•Kurt Fritz, 52, mountain guide, who is said to have uncovered the iceman’s face for the first time, got killed in an avalanche.
•Rainer Hölz, 47, who made a documentary about Ötzi’s recovery, died of a brain tumor.
•Helmut Simon, 69, famous as the father of Ötzi because he was one of the German hikers who discovered his body, found dead in a stream after a 300 foot fall.
•Dieter Warnecke, 45, head of the rescue team who looked for for Simon’s body, also died of heart attack soon after Simon’s funeral.
•Konrad Spindler, 66, leader of a scientific team who examined the iceman in Innsbruck, Austria, also died.
•Tom Loy, 63, molecular archaeologist, who made remarkable discoveries about Ötzi’s clothing and weapons, died from a hereditary blood disease.

The question is, who has benefited from such sketchy curse stories? Newspapers? Magazines? The museum in Bolzano, Italy where the remains are kept preserved for public view?

Using recent DNA studies, scientists are hoping to find this iceman’s modern-day relatives before the 20th anniversary of his discovery in September 2011. The mysterious iceman remains part of great controversies regarding his travels high up in the mountains. Alessandro Vanzetti and Luca Luca Bondioli, two archaeologists from Rome, suggest that the iceman was killed at a lower altitude and later on placed on a burial platform further uphill. But, Albert Zink, Head of the EURA Institute for Mummies and the Iceman, Bolzano, says that because the body was found undamaged except for a fatal injury, “Ötzi probably died in the mountains alone.”


Otzi the Iceman in MuseumPhoto: © South Tyrol Museum of ArchaeologyOtzi the Iceman at South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, Italy


To know more about Ötzi, you can visit There are many book, periodicals and DVDs out there which explain more about him. You can also visit the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, northern Italy to see him in the flesh.

We might think of him as a representative of Homo sapiens, who enjoyed his natural mummification and reached us safely, a messenger of our past.

Sources: 1, 2, 2