This replica of Otzi, the Alpine caveman frozen in time, mimics his clothes and features—including scars and tattoos still visible after 5,000 years on ice.

Photograph by Robert Clark, National Geographic
  • Audience versions of this page: Family

    On September 19, 1991, German tourists, hiking in the Alps between Austria and Italy, stumbled across the remains of a human body protruding from the ice. The hikers and police thought the body was a young mountaineer who recently died in the rugged terrain. In fact, the body turned out to be more than 5,000 years old!
     
    Nicknamed “Otzi” after the region of the Alps in which he was found (the Otztals), the so-called “Iceman” has revealed much about life and death in prehistoric Europe. Some of Otzi’s clothes were preserved, including the world’s oldest pair of snowshoes and a woven coat. Otzi also had tattoos on his legs and back, possibly related to pain-relief treatments similar to acupuncture. Perhaps most shockingly, Otzi did not die a natural death—he bled to death after being struck with arrows.
     
    Otzi is just one of hundreds of “accidental mummies” created by unique environmental conditions. The peat bogs of northern Europe have preserved the bodies, clothes, and even hair of dozens of prehistoric “bog bodies.” The deserts of the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, preserved the bodies of 19th-century cholera victims. The freezing steppe of central Russia created the “Siberian Ice Maiden” about 2,000 years ago.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    acupuncture Noun

    medical process that involves treating pain or illness with the insertion of needles at specific points in the body.

    autumn Noun

    season between summer and winter. Also called fall.

    bog Noun

    wetland of soft ground made mostly of decaying plant matter.

    bog body Noun

    prehistoric remains of a person, preserved and discovered in a wetland bog.

    border Noun

    natural or artificial line separating two pieces of land.

    Encyclopedic Entry: border
    cholera Noun

    infectious, sometimes fatal disease that harms the intestines.

    dagger Noun

    weapon made of a short, sharp blade.

    desert Noun

    area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year.

    Encyclopedic Entry: desert
    equipment Noun

    tools and materials to perform a task or function.

    fur Noun

    thick hair covering the skin of an animal.

    hike Verb

    to walk a long distance.

    ice Noun

    water in its solid form.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ice
    leather Noun

    skin of an animal, prepared for use as clothing, protection, shelter, or other use.

    mountaineer Noun

    someone who climbs mountains.

    mountain range Noun

    series or chain of mountains that are close together.

    peat Noun

    layers of partially decayed organic material found in some wetlands. Peat can be dried and burned as fuel.

    police Noun

    local, state, or national government organization for law enforcement.

    prehistoric Adjective

    period of time that occurred before the invention of written records.

    preserve Verb

    to maintain and keep safe from damage.

    protruding Adjective

    sticking out.

    reed Noun

    grass with tall, strong stalks that grows in marshy ecosystems.

    region Noun

    any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

    Encyclopedic Entry: region
    remains Noun

    materials left from a dead or absent organism.

    reveal Noun

    to make known or uncover.

    rugged Adjective

    having an irregular or jagged surface.

    Siberia Noun

    region of land stretching across Russia from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

    slab Noun

    flat, thick piece of material such as earth or stone.

    steppe Noun

    dry, flat grassland with no trees and a cool climate.

    Encyclopedic Entry: steppe
    stumble Verb

    to stagger, walk unsteadily, or trip.

    tattoo Noun

    permanent ink decoration on skin.

    terrain Noun

    topographic features of an area.

    tourist Noun

    person who travels for pleasure.