Image: Ötzi
Augustin Ochsenreiter  /  AP file
A researcher examines the 5,200-year-old body of a Bronze Age hunter known as Ötzi in Bolzano, Italy.
updated 8/26/2010 5:49:43 PM ET 2010-08-26T21:49:43

Ötzi the Iceman, the 5,300-year-old mummy found in the Italian Alps, may have been ceremonially buried, according to a study which mapped the items found near the frozen corpse.

According to research published in the journal Antiquity, the melting glacier in the Ötztal Alps, where the well preserved mummy was found in 1991, was not the site of a murder, but a solemn burial ceremony.

"Our reconstruction suggests that Ötzi died at at lower altitude in early-mid spring, and was then buried up on the mountain with his goods in late summer or early autumn," Luca Bondioli of the National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnology in Rome told Discovery News.

Pollen found in the mummy's gut indicated that Ötzi died in April, while pollen within the ice suggested the corpse was deposited there in August or September. The theory would explain this mismatch.

The hypothesis is the last of a long series of speculation over the Iceman.

Prior to the discovery in 2001 of an arrowhead in the mummy's left shoulder, researchers believed Ötzi died at about age 45 from cold and hunger, or was the victim of a ritual sacrifice.

Further investigations established that the mortally wounded man froze at a high altitude with his tools and personal items, succumbing to the arrowhead that hit his left subclavian artery. He was escaping from a tribal clash, researchers theorized.

"Interestingly, such reconstruction has never been supported by the publication of a detailed map of the items found over the Iceman site," Bondioli said.

Bondioli and colleagues investigated the geomorphology of the site where Ötzi was found, a shallow depression between two low ridges.

Some 16.4 feet away, they noticed a small rock platform. The platform, which they believe was Ötzi's burial site, was connected by a natural fissure to the depression where the mummy was found 19 years ago.

The researchers used this information to create the first comprehensive distribution map of the body and other artifacts, which they believe are funerary items rather than mountain equipment.

Among the 466 items found at the site were a dagger, a backpack frame, an ax, a quiver, a birch-bark container, a grass mat, a bow and a pelt cap.

The researchers plotted the distribution of the items on a digital model of the Iceman site. The model suggested that over time, Ötzi and the objects moved in semi-melted ice and slumped into the lower depression through the fissure.

"The bow and ax were captured, and the backpack frame stopped against a protruding rock," Bondioli said.

According to the researchers, the corpse would have turned prone, with the feet towards the north and the arms hanging down, like a body floating in dense fluid. It then stopped against the boulder where it was found in 1991.

"Here the left arm, trapped against the boulder, was slowly twisted to a peculiar angle, following the down slope flow traction of the body. A few lighter and hollow items like the quiver floated away to the northern edge of the basin," Bondioli said.

But Frank Rühli, head of the Swiss Mummy Project at the University of Zurich and one of the experts who investigated the mummy, argues it's is unlikely that Ötzi's unnatural posture, with the left arm bent across the chest, was the result of a post-mortem event.

"CT scans suggested that no major movement of the arm occurred after death," Rühli told Discovery News.

© 2012 Discovery Channel

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