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The True Story Of The Iceman’s Death

Otzi the Iceman is perhaps the most famous prehistoric body ever found. Perfectly preserved in an Alpine glacier, the Iceman has provided us with an incredible glimpse into life in the region 5,300 years ago. We even know his health problems—Lyme disease, tooth decay, gallstones, and arsenic poisoning from working with copper.


As it turned out, Otzi didn’t have to worry about any of those, since he died in a violent confrontation involving an arrow to the shoulder and a blow to the head. Until recently, archaeologists suspected that his death had followed a daring chase through the mountains, with Otzi killing two of his pursuers before being hunted down, exhausted and starving, and brutally murdered.

As it turns out, things didn’t go down quite like that. A breakthrough came when scientists realized that what they thought was Otzi’s empty stomach was actually part of his colon. His real stomach had been pushed upward under his ribs while he was in the ice. It was packed full of ibex meat, indicating that Otzi had eaten a large meal not more than an hour before his death. Clearly, the Iceman wasn’t in the middle of a dramatic chase if he decided to sit down and stuff himself full of venison.

Further evidence came in 2015, when scientists used nanotechnology to detect a blood-clotting protein called fibrin on Otzi’s arrow wound. Since fibrin vanishes quickly in a working body, its presence proves that Otzi died very quickly after being shot, contrary to earlier theories that he survived the arrow wound for days. With the new evidence, we can now safely discard the chase theory of the Iceman’s death. 

Instead, it seems that Otzi felt safe in the mountains and sat down for a leisurely meal.

However, shortly afterward, he was ambushed and shot. He also suffered a head injury, possibly because he fell after being shot. It’s not quite as dramatic as a deadly race against unknown pursuers, but at least we can now be reasonably sure of how the Iceman died.