One of the true highlights of my trip to Bolzano was a visit to the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology to see the Iceman Otzi and discover how he lived and what was life back then. Whether you are staying for a couple of days or on a day trip to Bolzano from Trento, I highly suggest you include the museum on your bucket list along with other highlights such as the cathedral and a walk along its city center to see the local architecture.
Who is Ötzi and where was he found?
His body was preserved under the ice for some 5300 years, so Ötzi can be safely defined as a glacier mummy. He was found in the Ötztal Valley Alps (hence his name Ötzi given by an Austrian journalist) completely by accident by two hikers in 1991. Apparently, he was crossing Tisenjoch/Giogo di Tisa in the Schnalstal/Val Senales Valley, South Tyrol, and was murdered right there where it became his last resting place for more than 5000 years, making him older than the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge, nonetheless.
A person from the Copper Age, a period of the late Neolithic, Ötzi was found with stone tools but also a copper axe, quite innovative for his time. There are several theories, but as a matter of fact, it’s likely that we are never going to know exactly who Ötzi was. The axe he was found with was for defensive purpose? Or as a symbol of the power of a tribe chief? Were his tools used for hunting or was he a farmer? Judging from his hands, he didn’t spend his life performing physically debilitating work such as farmer or blacksmith.
Mainly based on grains such as barley, spelt and wheat, his diet included also legumes (mainly peas and fava beans), fish and meat. Fresh fruits and honey were the sweet components.
But in the end, what did Ötzi die from? Excessive tiredness? Hypothermia? Some thought about a battle that ended tragically because of the damages to his equipment. For years, there have been many speculations and finally in 2001 new x-rays revealed an arrow injury on his left shoulder, leading scientists to think that he was murdered. Of course, when he was found, CSI forensic teams were not among the scientists who first arrived at the place so potential evidence on how the crime happened and on the perpetrator was contaminated.
A thorough investigation on his corpse revealed several injuries such as one on his right hand struck some 24 hours before he died, the fracture on his right temple was probably due to being hit right before dying. While the several fractures on his skull are likely due to repeated freezing and unfreezing throughout the centuries. Finally, severe bleeding was caused by a vascular wound that would have been stopped only surgically, which led to thinking that Ötzi’s last cause of death was a circulatory shock and subsequent organ failure. At the time of his death, it seems that Ötzi was around 45 years old, making him pretty elderly for that period. In fact, he was already a bit suffering from worn-out bones and joints showing signs of arthrosis, damages on the knees and signs of an unidentified chronic disease.
Painstaking studies and research were essential to understanding so much about Ötzi himself, his ancestors and lineage both from paternal and maternal lines, his childhood, where he grew up, his blood type, that he spent much of his time in front of a bonfire given the traces of smoke found on his lungs, his last meal, probably ibex with some bread. They even found that he had parasites and fleas! As it seems from his findings is that he was feeling safe and protected during his last meal, unaware of the fact that death was coming about an hour later.
What to See in Bolzano’s Archaeology Museum
First of all, you will do a little queue to enter the museum because this is actually one of the main attractions in Bolzano. Once inside, you will see another queue, this time to see the mummy Ötzi who is kept inside a glass chamber protected from all elements and atmosphere so that it doesn’t damage. To preserve it and display it to the public at the same time, scientists found the method of indirect cooling ideal. Basically, the cell where he’s kept contains sterile air and is surrounded by pipes where a blend of water and propylene glycol circulates at the temperature of -8°C. The conditions where Ötzi lives now are more or less the same he has lived for more than 5000 years under the ice so at about -6°C and almost 100% of humidity. On top of all this, they regularly spray the mummy with sterile water to avoid it drying out and always keep a thin film of ice on its skin.
When is your turn to stand in front of Ötzi’s cell, you can stop for a limited amount of time and then keep shuffling to allow others to see it and carry on with the visit of the museum. Right after you see the real mummy, you will step over and stand in front of another cabinet showing a representation of how scientists and researchers think Ötzi looked like.
The rest of your journey to Copper-Age South Tyrol will take you to see the clothes and tools Ötzi was found with, that now are preserved at 16-18°C of temperature and air humidity of 50-60%. Each display cabinet has an independent cooling system with the air enriched with 99% nitrogen to avoid the objects being attacked by bacteria.
Research has shown that his clothes were actually made of high-quality material and ideal for carrying a life in such a hostile mountainous environment. The material is mainly leather sewed with animal sinew and processed with smoke and animal fat. Among the other objects that were found with him are also an axe, bow and arrows, curative mushrooms.
Plan your visit: Practical Information
The visit to Bolzano’s South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology is not just a quick jaunt to see the mummy but a whole journey through his life, habits, clothes and hunting tools. This is why you should plan it properly so that you have enough time to fully enjoy and explore this interesting landmark.
Address: Museumstraße/Via Museo 43.
How to reach: Around 10 minutes walk from Bolzano main train station.
Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm, last entry 5.30pm.
Official website: https://www.iceman.it/en
Rome-based travel writer, blogger and photographer.