30 Oct Ötzi, the Iceman’s Ink
The Tyrolean iceman, or Ötzi as he is known, is a 5,300-year-old mummy, discovered on the Tisenjoch Pass in the Italian part of the Ötztal Alps. An incredible chain of coincidences allowed Ötzi to remain intact. Covered by snow shortly after his death, and later by ice, Ötzi’s body ended up in a crevasse that would keep it perfectly preserved until its discovery in 1991. Radio carbon dating established that Ötzi had lived from 3350 and 3100 B.C.E, and the remarkable level of preservation has allowed archeologists the first detailed insight into the clothing, behavior, tool use and diet of the Neolithic times. Perhaps more interesting, Ötzi’s body demonstrates a fine collection of Copper Age tattoos, and till this day, remains the only known example of ancient tattoos ever to be seen on human skin!
Here are 5 facts you should know about Ötzi’s tattoos!
- Ötzi’s body is covered, head to toe, with 57 tattoos, all in form of lines and crosses.
- His tattoos were not produced in the most conventional manner. Rather they were produced by fine incisions, either using a sharpened bone needle or blade, and were then coloured by rubbing burnt charcoal into the wounds.
- Ötzi’s tattoos are all located in places that would have been hidden by clothing, suggesting that they were not primarily intended for display purposes.
- Astonishingly, Ötzi’s tattoos are located on the same pressure points targeted by practitioners of acupuncture. The combination of tattooed points on Ötzi’s body represents a meaningful therapeutic regiment, thus confirming the theory that Ötzi’s tattoos were therapeutic and not simply decorative or symbolic!
- Before Ötzi, acupuncture as a treatment for joint distress, rheumatism and arthritis was thought to have originated in Asia. Yet Ötzi’s tattoos confirm that the practice was around at least 2,000 years earlier than previously predicted, which could either indicate independent invention of the treatment method or early cultural exchange between Europe and East Asia.
Photo credits: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology