On Discovering a Body

Erika and Helmut loved climbing in the mountains. Germans have long been mountain climbers even before the pastime became a middle-class sporting activity. In mid-September, 1991, the couple were on a climbing vacation and hiking near a glacier along the Austrian/Italian border when they came upon the body.

The man was clearly dead, and, being in the Alps, the pair assumed that the man died of injuries sustained in pursing mountain climbing. After all, the hobby is not without its inherent dangers; rock and snowslides, sudden storms, altitude sickness, and more can overtake even the most experienced climbers. So, accidental death seemed to be obvious thing for Erika and Helmut to assume when they contacted the authorities and reported finding the body.

Their assumptions were wrong. First of all, the man had no ID on him. Forensic scientists believed he was around 45 years old, and he was fairly short (about 5’5″ or 1.7 meters tall) and thin. His clothes were simple and the things scattered near his body told of someone who was in the mountains for something other than sport. Moreover, the scientists could tell that this man had been healthy when he died. And then the mystery deepened. They found the wounds. The man had been shot through his shoulder, and the projectile had hit a major artery. They had found the cause of death, at least.

As to who shot him, well, there was no way to tell. The ice from the glacier had preserved him, luckily, but that did not help the doctors with what led him to be in that place at that time and receive the fatal wound he received. They were confident at the time that where he was found by Erika and Helmut was where the man had died; in other words, the body had not been moved there by the killer. However, it was later proven that the man had been killed elsewhere and the body was moved to the place where the German hiking tourists found him.

But who–or what–moved him?

We know that, most likely, the man’s body was moved not by a human but rather by the ice that had preserved his body. In fact, the body may have been moved a considerable distance by the ice. And that wound, that shot, still perplexed the scientists. After some full body scans, they discovered that the projectile was still in the body. But this information brought them no closer to determining who killed this mystery man.

On the other hand, the finding of the projectile did help them date the killing of the man, at least generally. You see, the projectile lodged in the man’s shoulder was an arrowhead. And the man found by Erika and Helmut, so well preserved by the ice that he looked like someone who had died recently and discovered in the Otztal Alps, probably died of his wound some 5,400 years ago.

He’s known today as Otzi, the Iceman.

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