Ötzi the Iceman has captured humanity’s imagination ever since his discovery in the Alps in 1991. Three decades later scientists in South Tyrol, Italy continue to unthaw his many secrets.
It’s not every day you come face to face with a man who is 5,300 years old. It’s even rarer to get an interview with him. But through the supernatural wizardry of a Ouija board, endless billows of pine-scented incense, and generous pours of South Tyrolean wine we were able to embark on a hike in the spirit world with Ötzi the Iceman. And boy what a hike it was.
If Ötzi’s name doesn’t ring a bell, you may have been entombed in a block of ice for the last 30+ years. In 1991, two unsuspecting hikers in the Ötztal Alps of South Tyrol stumbled upon a sight only an archaeologist could adore. Partially buried atop an ice-ravaged slope was a frozen corpse with an arm outstretched as if reaching for the hand of modern man.
At the time, it was thought the body was a soldier from one of the world wars, but it was soon discovered to be that of a much, much older warrior. So old in fact, the discovery would shake the foundations of history.
Unearthing Ancient Secrets in the Alps
This riveting interview reveals facts about Ötzi the Iceman in a way you will not find anywhere else. Even though Ötzi died 53 centuries ago, we found him to be pleasant, a bit gruff and a character with an Ice Age-size sense of humor.
In the end, we dive into how you can visit Ötzi the Iceman in Bolzano. If you want to speak with him yourself, we can make that happen too. For a small fee and a couple of cases of wine, we will gladly serve as your spiritual medium. Without further ado, here’s our candid conversation with the coolest man to ever walk Earth.
From the Lips of Ötzi the Iceman
Throne & Vine: You have been “free” from your icy tomb for more than 30 years now. That must have been liberating after thousands of years.
Ötzi: To be honest, my situation isn’t much different today than it was 10,000+ feet up the mountain beneath a glacier. Although I have to say Bolzano is a lovely town. It’s amazing when you think about it, but when they discovered my body, new technologies had to be invented to continue my preservation. I am now kept in a specially designed, ice-freezing cold chamber that mimics the climatic conditions of the actual glacier where I was found. The temperature of the chamber is kept precisely at a frosty 21.2 °F (-6°C ) with 99% humidity. Two other cold chambers with the same design also exist.
Throne & Vine: Wait a second, why do you need two additional chambers?
Ötzi: One additional chamber is for performing scientific research on my mummified body. The other is located at the Bolzano Hospital. In the event, that there was some unforeseen power failure at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, I could be rushed to the hospital to be “saved”. Which is kind of ironic since I am already dead.
Throne & Vine: Ah yes, that is a funny way to look at it. Your mummified body is the oldest ever found in Europe. How did it manage to survive for so long?
Ötzi: I like to think I had something to do with it, but to be frank the only reason my body is still around is pure luck. You see before dying I keeled over into a small gully bordered by massive boulders. It was snowing at the time so I was soon buried under a blanket of white. As the centuries turned, the Niederjoch Glacier crept over the gully entombing me in ice. Unbelievably, the boulders protected my body from being pummeled.
Throne & Vine: Scientists have determined you lived somewhere between 3,239-3,107 B.C. during the late Neolithic period. Are there any trends from back then that are still with us today?
Ötzi: Absolutely! That period gave rise to several notable innovations. For example, the wheel. It was invented in Slovenia, which is not too far from South Tyrol.
Throne & Vine: What about the cuisine? Any dishes that are still popular?
Ötzi: Being that we did not have any grocery stores back in the day, we had to hunt and gather everything we ate. That meant a steady diet of red deer, wild goat and porridge made from grains. In fact, the hour before my murder I devoured some ibex meat. Travelers today can still savor this wild game and more when visiting mountain huts in South Tyrol. You’ll love it!
Throne & Vine: Um you said you were murdered? Care to elaborate?
Ötzi: I can’t say much per my legal team until the investigation is officially over, but yes I was slain with an arrow through my back. The arrowhead struck with such force it broke my left shoulder. I bled out in a matter of minutes.
A few days earlier, I was involved in an altercation. A spirited scrap you could say. One that resulted in a deep cut on my right hand. A couple of hard blows on my noggin and a fracture to my left eye socket. If I had to guess, the lethal arrow came from the bow of that fella. That’s just speculation of course.
Throne & Vine: What kind of tools and weapons did you have to defend yourself against enemies and the elements?
Ötzi: Well I was always good with my fists, but you’d have to be a fool to trek through the Alps then without a survival kit. On my belt, I kept a flint stone dagger and the oldest medicine kit ever found.
Throne & Vine: You had a medicine kit?
Ötzi: That’s right. You see at the time of my death I was battling several ailments. Not a surprise really given I was in my mid-forties, which was quite old at the time.
One of the more annoying ailments I suffered was intestinal parasites. Nasty little buggers known as whipworms. I kept a couple of pieces of birch fungus threaded through strips of hide. Our ancestors knew this fungus was quite toxic to the whipworms so I ingested it as necessary.
Throne & Vine: What else did you bring on your journey?
Ötzi: My most prized possession was my copper-bladed axe. Until it was found next to my corpse, no one believed we had developed the skills yet to forge such a beauty. But I did indeed live during the early Copper Age. My axe blade is 99% pure copper. A true masterpiece in metalwork and the only one of its kind left in the world.
The copper came from hundreds of miles away in a region called Tuscany. The blade was cast in a mold and hammered into a cutting shape. I then fixed it to a wooden shaft, carved from a yew tree, using leather straps and tar to hold it in place. It was still intact when discovered.
Since copper axes were rare and valuable in my time, only held by men of high status, it’s puzzling as to why my murderer didn’t snatch it after felling me. Seems like a clue the investigators should consider.
I also carried with me a longbow, arrows and a quiver. The bow was crafted from a yew tree as well. She was a work in progress though. Was really hoping to have her done before trekking up Similaun Mountain. Perhaps you’d be talking with a different “Iceman” today if that was the case. Anywho, the bow was taller than me to allow for shots up to 150 feet away. I’m 5′ 2″ tall and the bow ran 5’9″. My quiver held 14 arrows in total, but only two were finished.
The quiver was made from the hide of a roe deer and the arrows from viburnum wood. Like my dagger, the arrowheads were made of flint. Speaking of my dagger, you can actually purchase a killer replica of it. The Ötzi knife makes a great gift for the hunter or history lover in your life. Sorry for the shameless plug.
By the way, among the most important items I carried was fire.
Throne & Vine: How does one carry fire? Assume you didn’t have matches.
Ötzi: No matches. I had something better. I made a round container by rolling the bark of a birch tree. Inside, I kept charcoal embers wrapped in maple leaves from my last fire. The leaves kept the embers alive so to speak. Whenever I needed a fire to stay warm or to cook meat all I had to do was fan the embers. In a matter of seconds, I had a flame.
Throne & Vine: The weather in the Alps can be unforgiving. How else did you stay warm? What did you wear for clothing?
Ötzi: Well I was quite a fashionable man back in the day. What you might consider a “lumbersexual” today. The difference being I actually know how to use an axe. My attire came from multiple animals. This prevented me from getting cold and wet.
On my head, I sported a bearskin cap that I won in an arm-wrestling match. My coat ran down to my knees and consisted of sheep and goat hides stitched together with animal tendons.
My legs were also covered in sheep and goat hides supported by a calfskin belt. Instead of underwear, I wore a loincloth made from sheep hide and kept together by my belt.
Throne & Vine: Did you have any kind of special footwear?
Ötzi: I certainly did. I wore primitive shoes consisting of deer hide stitched to the outside of netting made from lime tree bast. I stuffed grass under the netting for warmth. When my feet got wet, I just replaced the grass. The soles of my feet walked on the soft fur of the deer hide. I secured the shoes to each foot using string.
Throne & Vine: We heard you also sport several tattoos. Is there a story behind them?
Ötzi: Yeah my body is riddled with tattoos. I lost count, but supposedly scientists found 61 on my corpse. These had nothing to do with looking cool or tough. My bearskin cap does that on its own. My tattoos were for therapeutic purposes. Many of them are located near my joints such as my wrist and ankles. Back then we treated tattooing as an early form of acupuncture.
Each tattoo I received was to soothe my chronic pain. The tattoos were made by cutting a straight line into my skin followed by rubbing charcoal into the incision.
Throne & Vine: A major motion picture was recently released re-imagining your life and death. What are your thoughts on it?
Ötzi: Loved it! The movie “Iceman” is a spectacle all should see. Sure Hollywood takes some liberties with my story, but the settings and costumes are spot on when it comes to showing what life was like 5,300 years ago. My only gripe is that Brad Pitt should have played me. We share the same tattoos after all.
Throne & Vine: What is it like to be one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time?
Ötzi: I’d prefer to have never been found. When glaciers melt, the world changes.
Throne & Vine: Point taken. We’ve heard you called Ötzi the Iceman, Frozen Fritz and even Similaun Man. Do you have a favorite?
Ötzi: Any of those are fine. Doubt anyone could pronounce my real name. And I don’t have a clue how to spell it.
Throne & Vine: What else do you want people to know about you?
Ötzi: I love getting visitors. Everyone visiting South Tyrol and the Dolomites needs to come by the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano. My body and belongings are there for all to see, as well as exhibits detailing more about my life, death and discovery. You can stand eye-to-eye with me thanks to an incredibly detailed 3D model of what I looked like thousands of years ago. The museum also covers how modern science has unearthed all of my secrets so far. But I promise I still hold more (gives a good belly laugh).
Throne & Vine: We can’t agree more. All should take the time to see the museum. Do you have any final words for our readers?
Ötzi: Yeah, stay frosty…like me.
⟹ YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: How to Hike Tre Cime di Lavaredo
How to Visit Ötzi the Iceman
Seeing Ötzi the Iceman at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology should be a part of your day when visiting Bolzano. More than 5 million people from all over the world have walked through the museum since its opening in 1998.
The museum is first class immersing you into the world of Ötzi through novel displays and multimedia exhibits. Plan on 1-2 hours to walk through the museum. When you reach the window to peer into Ötzi, the sight of his actual mummified body is exhilarating and humbling at the same time. We came away with a new perspective on the history of mankind.
The displays include English descriptions so you will not have to muscle through deciphering German or Italian phrases if that is a concern. The museum also houses other fascinating findings revealing a complete archaeological history of South Tyrol.
Like all of Bolzano’s stunning sights, it’s easy to reach the museum on foot. It is near the historic heart of Bolzano off Museumstraße street just past the famous Piazza delle Erbe — a centuries-old outdoor marketplace full of fresh goodness.
We highly recommend a guided tour as you will undoubtedly have questions about that arise as you go through the museum. To ensure one is available, you will need to make a tour reservation request in advance. If you decide not to participate in a guided tour, we still recommend purchasing your tickets online before visiting the museum.
Another adventure you may want to consider while in South Tyrol is hiking to the glacier where Ötzi was discovered. In 2020 an observation deck called, Iceman Ötzi Peak, was unveiled near his discovery site.
⟹ YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Val di Funes: Italy’s Most Enchanting Valley
Learn More About Ötzi the Iceman
If our interview with Ötzi, piqued your interest, consider picking up Ötzi, the Iceman: The Full Facts at a Glance by Angelika Fleckinger. In addition to detailing the history of Ötzi and the Stone Age period in which he lived, the book also provides an in-depth look at the scientific discoveries made, including information on Ötzi’s DNA, clothing, tools, and weapons.
The book also examines the fascinating theories about Ötzi’s death. You can also dive into the innovative preservation and conservation techniques used to keep the mummy in pristine condition for further study.
We like to give special thanks to Selita Corradini for leading us on an exceptional tour of the Ötzi exhibit. Her enthusiasm for Ötzi is contagious!