Otzi is Discovered

     Two middle-aged vacationers, from Nuremburg, Germany, Helmut and Erika Simon chanced upon a frozen corpse sticking partially out of the ice on their way back from a hike in the Tyrolean Alps on September 19, 1991.  The corpse was mistakenly thought to be a recently deceased hiker who had run into some bad luck, but they would later find that the corpse was far older. When the Iceman was found to be nearly 5300 years old, the Simons got a lawyer and began what would turn into years of legal battles over the rights to collect money for the discovery of the corpse. They never did receive what they felt was deserving.

 

The Botched Excavation

     Most of the context at Otziís site was destroyed.  This is the main reason that scientists have struggled to put his story together. Members of the Alpine rescue squad and the Austrian government were the first to try to free Otzi from the ice. They unfortunately used a jackhammer (cringe).  Because the site was thought to be more recent, and because no professionals were called in before all this activity began, no careful measures were taken to document the various items found with the body above the ice.  Later on in the removal process two rescue workers, who were completely archeologically illiterate, began to dig the corpse out of the ice with an ice pick and a ski pole.  By that time it was guessed that the corpse was at least 500 years old, but no C-14 dating had been done to give a real age. No one yet knew how important the find really was.

     Items found with the corpse on top of the ice included a birch bark container, a copper ax (first thought to be bronze), a leather pouch, and various other items I will later list. The disturbing information here is that all the artifacts above the ice had been taken off the mountain without being catalogued, and one item had even been used as a cane or prop by a celebrity mountaineer who had decided to visit the site before the corpse was removed. 

    All the context of the artifacts above the ice had to be recorded as hearsay from witnesses who had been present before the artifacts were taken away.  A few photos had been taken by not only the Simons, but also the rescue workers, but these were not as good as the real deal. The context of the items would never be recovered completely.

Sending in the Professionals

     Although Otzi had been removed from the ice with a ski pole, scientists could still get a good look at the body and do some dating to try to figure out their next steps. Archaeologist Konrad Spindler had been called to the medical examinerís office in Innsbruck. He guessed that the corpse was at least 4,000 years old. When the body was carried to the helicopter and while it was being examined for the first time, none of the people touching Otzi, including Spindler, were wearing gloves, and they were contaminating the corpse with every poke and prod.

     Many things within Otziís discovery had been mishandled, and this directly contributed to the next six years of what appears to be massive exploitation on the part of many scientists working on solving his mystery. Along with disputes about scientific evidence and the storage of the corpse, Austria and Italy had their own dispute about where exactly the corpse had been found.  Austria claimed Otzi had been found within the Austrian Alps border, but due to a territory change in the past, he had actually been found on Italyís side.  Italy allowed Austria to stay in charge of the research (after a strong fight on Austria's side), but once the research was over and Italy had built a place for him to rest, Otzi would belong to Italy.