Ötzi’s last forced march?

(c) Port au Prince Filmproduction, Berlin

Ötzi’s last forced march?


Ötzi, the Iceman, continues to surprise us. His equipment is among the oldest archaeological evidence to provide us with more details about life and survival in the Copper Age. However, Ötzi is also exciting as an individual with his personal life story. Mummies like him cannot speak, but accidentally or not they can show us a thing or two about their lifestyles and, as in Ötzi’s case, about the last hours of his life more than 5,000 years ago. It’s up to us to draw conclusions.


Klaus Oeggl from the University of Innsbruck and James Dickson from the University of Glasgow are palaeobotanists. For years they have been studying mosses and lichens in South Tyrol as well as their distribution in places and across epochs. Now they have presented a study which documents mosses and lichens on Ötzi’s body and clothing as well as in his stomach and intestines. Dickson, Oeggl, and their colleagues found 75 different mosses.

What’s interesting is that most of the mosses come from above 3,000m, in the nival zone, where the Ötzi site is located. 21 of these mosses still grow in the area today. In comparison, a third of the mosses that Ötzi deliberately or inadvertently carried did not come from the high alpine area. Instead these mosses are indigenous to the valley floor, much lower than botany had previously determined for the starting point of Ötzi’s last journey.

What conclusion did Oeggl and Dickson come to? They were able to reconstruct Ötzi’s march (or flight?) 24 to 48 hours prior to his death. He didn’t begin at an elevation of 2,500m, as was previously thought, but rather he initially descended somewhere between 600 and 800m to the valley floor in Vinschgau. There at the steep entry to Schnalstal Valley his path crossed with the moss Neckera complanata and the bogmoss Sphagnum. Shortly thereafter Ötzi began the arduous ascent to the 3,250m high Tisenjoch pass. That would have been an impressive athletic feat. Either that or it testifies to an escape…


Photo: taken from the movie “Iceman” by Felix Randau (c) Port au Prince Film Production Berlin

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