It wasn't a fall that killed him, or the cold, scientists say. The Iceman, a Bronze Age hunter whose 5,300-year-old frozen body was discovered in the Alps, was shot through the chest with an arrow and likely died in agony.
The discovery of an arrowhead embedded in the Iceman's body, scientists said Wednesday, resolves the mystery of how he died - an open question ever since his well-preserved corpse was discovered a decade ago.
"This changes everything. Now research on the Iceman starts over," Alex Susanna, director of the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, which houses the mummy, said Wednesday.
The flint arrowhead, less than inch long, was found in the Iceman's left shoulder last week with a technique called computerized tomography, which uses X-rays to produce a
The arrow's path as it ripped through the Iceman's body can be traced on the bones - starting at the tiny puncture of the entry wound in the skin of his left chest, said radiologist Paul Gostner.
The arrow tore through nerves and major blood vessels, paralyzing the left arm and shattering the shoulder blade, said researcher Eduard Egarter Vigl. It ended up about 3 inches under the shoulder near his left lung, Gostner said.
The Iceman probably lived a few hours at most after he was shot.
There were signs of heavy internal bleeding in what must have been an extremely painful death, said Egarter Vigl. The angle of the wound indicates he was shot from below.
X-ray tests conducted seven years ago by a different team showed something in the area, but scientists at the time were unable to identify it as an arrowhead.
"All the things that have been published over the past seven or eight years - that he died because of broken ribs, that he died under the snow, or that he was exhausted and laid down and fell asleep and froze to death - are wrong," said Susanna, the museum director.
"Maybe there was a combat, maybe he was in a battle. There is a whole series of new implications. The story needs to be rewritten."
Scientists hope to use this new information to reconstruct the last hours of the Iceman's life and his role in ancient society.
The Iceman was between 45 and 50 years old when he died, which was very old for that era.
The mummy was discovered by two German mountaineers in a glacier in the Tyrollean Alps on the Italian-Austrian border in 1991. His superbly preserved corpse is kept in a refrigerated viewing chamber at the museum, which is in northern Italy near the Austrian border.
The museum was built to house him and the array of weapons and tools found by his side, including a copper ax, bow and flint-tipped arrows. In September, Bolzano will host an international conference on the Iceman.
By Roxana M. Popescu
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