The murder of Ötzi

A criminal case engraved in stone?

There is a very special, mysterious motif on the back side of the Laces menhir: A bowman who points his arrow at another person. This motif is unique for the menhirs of the Adige Valley group. What does this scene represent? Is it a murder scene or just a hunting scene of two hunters hunting together? It’s maybe a long shot to see a connection with the death of Ötzi the Iceman, as Ötzi died a few hundred years earlier, but it can’t be ruled out completely. Ötzi’s death place is only a 20 km linear distance away from the Laces menhir.

The Ötzi epos

The people from the Copper Age who made the Laces menhir didn’t know any characters. Stories and events were transmitted by word of mouth over centuries or made present with the help of a pictographic script in the form of drawings and rock carvings. The Ötzi expert and archaeologist Prof. Dr. Walter Leitner has the following hypothesis: „Probably, the murder of Ötzi could not be totally hidden and his dramatic story was finally engraved on the quiet by a stonemason after quite some time. It’s maybe the oldest epos of humankind. We have known the phenomenon of a long-lasting transmission by word of mouth for as long as anyone can remember. Iliad and Odyssey, Nibelungs, great epics of the western cultural history – they were all written down many centuries later. What a fascinating idea.“

Late discovery

The mummy of Ötzi the Iceman became the best-examined corpse of history soon after his discovery due to X-rays, computed tomography and many specialized pathological examination methods and analyses. Ten years after his discovery Ötzi’s mummy underwent further examinations. A team around radiologist Dr. Paul Gostner and pathologist Dr. Egarter Vigl scrutinized the mummy with a mobile X-ray unit in the museum’s laboratory. And they didn’t believe their eyes: They found an arrowhead in his left shoulder! No scientist before them had seen the obvious. The arrowhead of flint is 27mm long and 18mm wide. It wasn’t removed by the scientists and can still be seen in Ötzi’s body. In 2002, the scientists from Bolzano made a new find: Ötzi had a gaping wound between thumb and index finger of his right hand, which is a sign of typical defensive wounds. He must have been involved in a quarrel or fight one or several days before his death.

Murder and manslaughter?

Was anybody after his blood? For quite some time? Stress symptoms at the fingernails prove that Ötzi was in a life-threatening danger during the last two weeks before his death. The position of the arrowhead – Ötzi was shot from behind – makes it clear that an intentional murder was planned. Ötzi thus had a turbulent past and finally had to die a violent death and no heroic death in the course of a fair duel. Walter Leitner: „At the peak of power, Ötzi didn't just have friends. His enemies became stronger and stronger, which led to power struggles in his own ranks. Ötzi’s political position was more and more weakened. Finally, there must even have been violent conflicts with serious physical injuries that, in the end, led him to seek salvation in flight. Ötzi left Val Venosta and fled to the Ötztal Alps. But his pursuers gave him no chance. Ötzi’s fate was sealed on an autumn day about 5300 years ago. An arrow shot from ambush smashed his shoulder and injured the aorta so that the man bled to death within a short time. To leave no traces the murderer removed the arrow shaft and took his heels. Soon afterwards the crime scene disappeared under a thick blanket of snow and the crime probably remained unpunished.“

What was the murderer's motive?

Was Ötzi an injured person on the run, was he on his way across the Alps as a copper trader or a victim of a robbery with murder? Or was he a disempowered chief or shaman? „We don’t have enough knowledge to give a definitive answer,“ says Walter Leitner. "But we tend to think that Ötzi was seen as an eccentric due to his probably outstanding spiritual faculties and not least because of his bizarre outfit, which definitely wasn’t the Neolithic everyday wear. Under this aspect it has to be considered that it might have been a murder for hire in the context of a political power struggle or even a ritual execution, but can never be proved.“ Another theory is that Ötzi was killed in a sacrificial ritual at the Tisenjoch. Sources: Walter Leitner: Ötzi der Mann aus dem Eis. in „Südtirol in Wort und Bild“2013; Erwin Brunner: Die letzten Tage das Mannes aus dem Eis, Geo Juli 200

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