5,300 years ago, someone shot a man with an arrow on a high Alpine ridge near the modern Italian-Austrian border. Thousands of years after his death, a group of hikers found the victim’s mummified body emerging from a melting glacier. Today, we know the man as Ötzi, and archaeologists have spent the last 28 years studying the wealth of information about Copper Age life Ötzi brought with him into the present. Studies have examined his genome, his skeleton, his last meals, his clothes, and the microbes that lived in his gut. Now, a new study of the chert tools he carried reveals details of his lifestyle, his last days, and the trade networks that linked far-flung Alpine communities.
Archaeologist Ursula Wierer of the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio in Florence, Italy, and her colleagues studied the surfaces of the tools under high-power microscopes. Separately, they made CT scans to better understand the tools’ shape and structure in places where the surface couldn’t be seen, such as where blade hafts were covered by wooden handles. They also compared microscopic images of the tools with a library of chert collected from around the region to learn where and how the equipment of Copper Age hunters like Ötzi was made.
Tools of the trade
Ötzi probably hailed from the lower Vinschgau Valley, one or two days’ walk from the slopes of the Alpine ridge where he died, according to isotopic analysis of his remains and the plant species that contributed to his tools and other equipment. 5,300 years ago, the Vinschgau was home to farmers and pastoralists who were just beginning to frequent the high mountain passes for the first time since the Mesolithic.