Workplace Violence: Was Otzi The Iceman Iced On The Job?

Filed under: Features,Legal,Safety & Workplace Violence |

By ROBERT SCALLY– There are new leads in the coldest of cold cases. New evidence uncovered in the 5,300-year-old homicide case of Otzi the iceman points to a possible act of workplace violence.

Scientists now know that Otzi, the mummified body of a Copper Age man found frozen inside a glacier in the Italian Alps in 1991, died after being shot in the back with an arrow.

A reconstruction of Otzi the iceman's appearance at the time of his death.

A reconstruction of the Otzi the iceman’s appearance at the time of his death. Was he killed on the job?

Evidence points to a scenario that has Otzi killed in a violent quarrel. There is also evidence that Otzi’s killer tried to cover his tracks, suggesting the perpetrator may have known the victim.

The mummy was found at an elevation of 10,500-feet in the Otztal Alps near the border of Austria and Italy, hence the nickname Otzi.

In the two decades since Otzi was discovered, scientists have established a number of facts about his life and death.

Otzi lived during the Copper Age, 5,300 years ago. He was about 46 when he died, making him a senior member of his community.

He lived in the South Tyrol region, just south of the Alps.

Otzi was an average size Copper Age man, 5 feet 3 inches tall, weighing 110 pounds when he died. He had deep-set brown eyes, a hooked nose, dark hair and a beard.

He was not a well iceman.

He had been sick three times in the six months before he died. His last illness happened two months before his death and lasted two weeks.

He had arthritic knees, cavities in his teeth, suffered from Lyme Disease and had whipworm, an intestinal parasite. He had well-healed rib fractures and a broken nose.

Among the items found with the iceman was a technologically advanced tool, status symbol and his prized possession: a copper axe.

Otzi At Work

Otzi worked as a shepherd in the mountains and probably in the copper smelting trade.

The Vinschgau Vally and the Alps: This is where Otzi the iceman, lived, worked and died.

The Vinschgau Vally and the Alps: This is where Otzi the iceman lived, worked and died.

Examination of Otzi’s tibia, femur and pelvis found he often took long walks across hilly terrain, a kind of frequent travel that was uncommon for most Copper Age Europeans.

Hair found on his clothing shows he herded sheep, goats and cows, according to a 2008 study in Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry.

Scientists speculate Otzi was also involved in copper smelting since high levels of copper particles were found in his hair. Otzi’s axe is 99.7% pure copper.

Otzi’s lungs were blackened, probably from breathing campfire or copper smelter smoke.

But why was Otzi killed and who killed him?

Was he killed in battle? Was he killed by one of his own? Was he killed in a fight over grazing land or livestock?

If  Otzi’s death came in battle with rivals, why didn’t they take his valuable axe or other possessions including food, a stone knife, fire starter kit, a bow and arrows?

The arrow that killed the iceman was shot from behind and from a considerable distance. It pierced his left shoulder blade cutting an artery.

Otzi the Iceman mummy

Otzi the Iceman mummy

Scientists know that as Otzi bled to death someone rolled him on his stomach, pulled the arrow shaft out of his back leaving him face down, left arm bent across the chest.

Otzi also sustained a potentially fatal head injury. It’s unclear if he struck his head when he fell after the arrow’s impact or if an assailant hit him.

Why did someone pull out the arrow shaft? Was it so the killer wouldn’t be identified? Did the killer not take the axe because it was easily identified as the victim’s?

Despite his age and ailments, Otzi was well fed. Otzi’s last meals offer more clues about the hours before he was killed.

Analysis of Otzi’s intestines found two meals. One meal was eaten about eight hours before his death. Pollen in the meal shows it was eaten in a mid-altitude conifer forest.

Fresh pollen grains from the hop-hornbeam plant, which blooms in June, were in his intestine. The pollen was just a few hours old when Ötzi was killed, meaning he died in early summer.

If Otzi worked as a shepherd, late spring and early summer would have been when he moved his flock to Alpine pastures.

A 2009 CAT scan of Otzi’s stomach found his last meal of deer meat, unleavened bread, and fruit. He ate less than two hours before his death.

The analysis of the two meals shows Otzi was on the move in the hours before he was killed.

In just a few hours he went from the location where he dined in the forest at about 4,000-feet to well above the tree line at 10,500-feet where he met his doom.

Archeologists know that Copper Age residents South Tyrol area were familiar with mountains, going to higher elevations searching for copper ore and grazing livestock in summer.

Today shepherds from Italy’s Schnals Valley drive their sheep across the Austrian border to Alpine pastures. It’s the same pass Otzi was crossing on his final journey.

One other fact adds to the mystery. Otzi’s right hand has a deep cut from hand-to-hand combat that took place shortly before his death.

Was he fleeing to a place he knew, traveling north into safe pastures?

Otzi Crime Scene Preserved In Ice

What is know for certain is that on a cold June day in the Italian Alps sometime after breakfast but before lunch, persons unknown shot a sick and wounded shepherd in the back with an arrow, piercing an artery.

Mortally wounded, he fell into a small ravine. As the shepherd lay dying, someone rolled him on his stomach, and pulled out the shaft of the arrow.

The assailant left behind the shepherd’s personal possessions, including a valuable copper axe.

High in the mountains, the shepherd’s body was soon covered by ice and snow that eventually piled 50-feet thick.

His position in the ravine combined with the ice and snow preserved his body and the crime scene where the iceman shepherd may have become the first known victim of workplace violence.

See also:

Otzi The Iceman Reveals Evidence Of Prehistoric Specialized Jobs

Please subscribe to WOW’s posts by email:


List your business in the premium web directory for free This website is listed under Human Resources Directory