Salve dal Sud Tirol,
I don’t suppose Copper Age man was paying too much attention to the scenery five thousand years ago, but today Sud Tirol is one of the most picturesque places in Europe (as well as the richest). After staying the night at Laghetti – having been the guests of honour at a festival of the Gruppo Alpini Laghetti (Alpine Mountaineers) – we didn’t want to miss the chance to see the most famous of all Copper Age men at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano: Ötzi. This goes down as one of the great privileges of travel.
In 1991 a cloud of sand from the Sahara Desert blew across the Mediterranean Sea and settled over the Alps in southern Europe. This caused a partial melting of ice and snow. When two German Trekkers (husband and wife) deviated from the usual track one evening they came across a chance discovery which changed the way we perceive Copper Age Man. They found a mummified body partially exposed, photographed it and reported the find. They were thinking they had come across the body of a fallen climber or a war victim. It turns out the body was of a man who died five thousand years ago. This is Ötzi.
Because Ötzi’s body had accidentally ended in a cleft, it has been mummified by the ice which has lain on top for five thousand years. He’s of interest to us humans for lots of different reasons.
There are a number of interesting new findings which attend the discovery of Ötzi’s body. He has the earliest example of a tattoo; probably the earliest attempts at acupuncture. He had only recently eaten his last meal of grain (before being murdered). On the cadaver were clothes of goatskin leggings, bearskin hat and deerskin coat. He had blood type O and brown eyes. A magnificent and credible lifelike figure has been made and stands in the museum, along with his mummified body.
Perhaps the most telling feature of the story is that the Copper Age gave humans the needle, which allowed us to sew, thereby allowing us to inhabit colder places (such as the mountainous area where Ötzi lived). This is when humans spread farther and farther from Africa, where we all come from. The advent of the needle is what gave humans the capacity to move into the colder regions.
Bolzano is a beautiful Italian town, with big mountains and fast-flowing river to go with the narrow, cobblestone streets. Sud Tirol was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire prior to World War One, and afterward Tirol was divided into two and the southern half was granted to the victorious Italians. When Ötzi was discovered in 1991, an argument erupted between modern-day Austria and modern–day Italy over which country could claim the body (found 82 metres inside the Italian border). Sud Tirol solved the problem by saying that they would have Ötzi forevermore, so Bolzano Museo it is.
Sud Tirol has never really accepted their transfer to Italy and a high proportion of the population speak German there. They are one of five border regions of Italy which has autonomy. This was how they could intervene and successfully solve the dilemma.
Five thousand years ago, Ötzi was probably not paying any attention to the magnificent scenery. Now, he’s one of the most important parts of it. It’s been a great privilege to see the exhibition.
Arrivederci a Bolzano (Bozen to the Tirolese)