Learning from the past – Otzi the Iceman


In 1991 hikers found the glacial well preserved remains of a mummy from the Copper age (around 3300 BCE) who came to be known as Otzi the Iceman.

I want to just share a bit about him what scientists have been able to figure out about his life. This man was a true primitive survivalist, as that is what he had to do to live.

Research has revealed educated guesses into Otzi’s background and they believe that he was a high-altitude shepherd. In his stomach they found partly digested remains of ibex, goat, chamois, and red deer meat, einkorn wheat grains, herb bread, roots, sloes (plum-like fruit), and various seeds and berries growing in the wild. So pretty much a diet of meat, fruit, and grains.

They found that he had an intestinal parasite, from his fingernails they show that he was sick three times in the six months before he died, cavities from his high carbohydrate diet, and that he was lactose intolerant. Otzi had 61 tattoos on his body made from pigment manufactured out of ash or soot. He had wear on his spine, knees, and ankle joints and may have used the tattoos as a form of acupuncture to treat pain from those issues. Life probably was not easy for people during this time period. Incredibly limited medical knowledge meant that people probably relied on their own immune system for healing.

Otzi wore a cloak made from woven grass, coat, belt, leggings, loincloth, and shoes made of leather. He had a bearskin cap, and waterproof shoes designed for snow walking that were made up of bearskin, deer hide, and tree bark. He had soft grass inside his shoes that acted like socks. Sinew was used as thread to hold everything together. He had a small pouch on his belt with a scraper, drill, flint flake, bone awl, and dried fungus (probably used as tinder).

His tools consisted of a copper axe made with a yew handle, a knife with a stone blade and wood handle, and 14 arrows.


I just think this all is so fascinating. We can learn so much about survival just from how people lived day to day in the past. I imagine myself back in that day without my Lifestraw water filter, BIC lighter, weather proof coat, and more. What would I do? How would I survive?

I’m not going to go into the cause of Otzi’s death, as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but I recommend you look into it if you are curious. Stuff You Should Know did a great podcast on him. 


  • Comments (1)

    • 5

      Thanks for mentioning Otzi. Many years ago, I had the opportunity to see him in the museum in Bolzano, Italy. Some of my ancestors lived in the Swiss Alps for hundreds of years. I got a kick out of thinking that I was looking at one of my very distant relatives.