A lithic arrow head from the Iceman's toolkit

A stone arrowhead found with the ice mummy Ötzi has a broken tip and other signs of wear. Credit: U. Wierer et al./PLoS ONE

Archaeology

Ötzi the Iceman’s tools tell a story of desperation

Broken arrows and worn stone gear speak to the plight of the ancient alpine hunter.

Before his violent death 5,300 years ago, the man known as Ötzi the Iceman was carrying all the essentials, from bark storage containers to an axe. Now, an analysis suggests that many of his stone tools were old and worn, hinting at the travails of the iceman’s final hours.

Ursula Wierer at the provincial Department of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape in Florence, Italy, and her colleagues examined artefacts found in the Alps near Ötzi’s mummified remains. His stone knife was well worn and his stone arrowheads were broken, and he lacked blanks to make new ones.

Earlier examination of Ötzi’s remains revealed a deep, recent stab wound to his right hand. That might have left him unable to care for his kit — marks on the Iceman’s tools suggest that he was right-handed, the authors say.