Research Article: The Iceman’s lithic toolkit: Raw material, technology, typology and use

Date Published: June 20, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Ursula Wierer, Simona Arrighi, Stefano Bertola, Günther Kaufmann, Benno Baumgarten, Annaluisa Pedrotti, Patrizia Pernter, Jacques Pelegrin, Michael D. Petraglia.


The Tyrolean Iceman, a 5,300-year-old glacier mummy recovered at the Tisenjoch (South Tyrol, Italy) together with his clothes and personal equipment, represents a unique opportunity for prehistoric research. The present work examines the Iceman’s tools which are made from chert or are related to chert working – dagger, two arrowheads, endscraper, borer, small flake and antler retoucher – and considers also the arrowhead still embedded in the shoulder of the mummy. The interdisciplinary results achieved by study of the lithic raw material, technology, use-wear analysis, CT analysis and typology all add new information to Ötzi‘s individual history and his last days, and allow insights into the way of life of Alpine Copper Age communities. The chert raw material of the small assemblage originates from at least three different areas of provenance in the Southalpine region. One, or possibly two, sources derive from outcrops in the Trentino, specifically the Non Valley. Such variability suggests an extensive provisioning network, not at all limited to the Lessini mountains, which was able to reach the local communities. The Iceman’s toolkit displays typological characteristics of the Northern Italian tradition, but also comprises features typical of the Swiss Horgen culture, which will come as no surprise in the toolkit of a man who lived in a territory where transalpine contacts would have been of great importance. Ötzi was not a flintknapper, but he was able to resharpen his tools with a medium to good level of skill. Wear traces reveal that he was a right-hander. Most instruments in the toolkit had reached their final stage of usability, displaying extensive usage, mostly from plant working, resharpenings and breaks. Evidently Ötzi had not had any access to chert for quite some time, which must have been problematic during his last hectic days, preventing him from repairing and integrating his weapons, in particular his arrows. Freshly modified blade tools without any wear suggest planned work which he never carried out, possibly prevented by the events which made him return to the mountains where he was killed by a Southern Alpine archer.

Partial Text

It was on 19th September 1991 when tourists crossing a glacier on the main Alpine ridge between the Schnalstal (Italy) and the Ötztal (Austria) made an exceptional discovery: on the Tisenjoch, at 3210 m a.s.l., the naturally mummified body of a fully equipped man emerged from the ice. This unique witness of the Copper Age, who died between 3370–3100 cal BC (4550±19 BP uncal,1σ) after having been shot by an arrow and was subsequently preserved in the ice, has opened new perspectives for prehistoric and anthropological research into the reconstruction of lifestyle and physical conditions of the Alpine inhabitants of the latter part of the 4th millennium BC [1–10]. For archaeological research the discovery and the context of this 45 years old man, along with his clothing and personal equipment, mostly made from exceptionally well-preserved organic material, represent a unique case study.

The main methodological approach is based on the reconstruction of the technical actions and gestures and their chronological sequence along the entire life cycle of each tool, from raw-material procurement to its final abandonment, its chaîne opératoire [40–41]. Analyses took place directly at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bozen-Bolzano where the artefacts are preserved. CT was made at Bozen-Bolzano Hospital. All analyses were non-destructive and made without sampling. All necessary permits were obtained for the described study, which complied with all relevant regulations. The permit was given by the Director of the Azienda Musei Provinciali and the Director of the Museum, after the positive response of the Scientific Council of the Museum.




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