This week, almost 10 years after the discovery of the "Ice Man," scientists say they now finally know what killed him: He was shot from behind by an arrow.
When the 5300-year-old mummy was found in the Tyrolean Alps, scientists figured he had died alone while on a hunting trip. But results of a computerized x-ray tomography (CT) scan have divulged a 2-centimeter-long flint arrowhead that shattered his scapula.
At a press conference held yesterday at the archaeological museum in Bolzano, Italy, where the remains are kept chilled, pathologist Eduard Egarter-Vigl and radiologist Paul Gostner of the Bolzano hospital related that the arrow passed through his left arm, causing nerve damage and possible paralysis. It broke his shoulder blade, but missed vital organs, which means the man probably had a drawn-out and painful death, the scientists said. An analysis of the path of the wound suggests that the bowman was standing behind and slightly lower than the Ice Man.
Anthropologist Horst Seidler of the University of Vienna, head of the Ice Man research team, says the mummy had been turned so researchers could take new x-rays before extracting bone and tissue samples for some international research projects. The x-rays indicated there was something in the shoulder; the CT scans--which had never before been done on the mummy--then revealed it to be an arrowhead. The tissue around the wound is relatively dense, says Seidler, indicating "extended heavy bleeding."
Seidler notes that back in 1994 he was among a team of scientists who proposed that the Ice Man did not just collapse from exposure or illness, but suffered "personal disaster before death." That was based on "extremely weak arguments," he concedes; now, however, it turns out they were right. The finding should give researchers plenty to talk about in September, when they gather in Bolzano for an international conference on the Ice Man.