Friday, October 29, 2010

Tool Kit of Otzi the Iceman

In 1991 two tourists in the Italian Alps discovered a mummified body. After an investigation, it was revealed that the mummified man lived sometime between 3350 and 3100 BC. The iceman is estimated to have been around 5 ft 5 in in height and about 110 lb. He was around 45 years at the time of his death, making him old by the standards of the time.

Otzi lived at the beginning of the copper age in Europe, so his discovery, along with the artifacts present on his body offer an interesting glimpse into the tools and equipment available to the traveler during that time.

The Axe

The first tool he had with him was certainly the most valuable at the time. It was a copper axe. The axe blade was 3.7 in long, and was secured to a yew handle. The handle was 24 in long. The blade was attached using birch tar and string, and more than half of the blade was inserted within the handle. The blade was made of almost pure copper and was worked using cold-hammering after casting.

The Knife

Another tool he had with him was a small flint knife. The knife measured 5.2 in in total length. The handle was made of ash, and the sheath of woven lime wood bast. A string was attached to the back of the knife.

The Retoucher/Pressure Flaker

The iceman also had a tool designed for flint knapping. It consisted of a piece of lime tree branch, which was pointed on one side. On the pointed side a hole was drilled, into which a bone plug (stag antler) was inserted with which the knapping was done.

The Arrows

A quiver of arrows was also discovered alongside Otzi. It was made of leather, and held 14 arrows made of viburnum sapwood. Two of the arrows were completed. They had flint tips, held with birch tar and bindings. The other 12 arrows were unfinished. In the quiver several pieces of antler were also discovered. Their use is still debated.

The Bow

Otzi was also carrying an unfinished yew bow. The stave was 72 in in length. As I am unfamiliar with bow making, I can not tell you what size bow would customarily be made from such a size stave.

The Birch Bark Containers

Two birch bark containers were also discovered, possibly used to carry some other items. They were about 5.9 in to 6.0 in in diameter and about 7.8 in in height. They were stitched together using tree fiber. Tests have shown that one of them contained maple leaves as well as spruce needles and charcoal. It is possible that this was a method for carrying an amber from the last camp site.

The Backpack

The backpack was very deteriorated at the time of discovery, but it appears to have had a frame consisting of a bent hazel branch about 6.5 ft long, held together by two 15.7 in larch wood pieces at the base. The pack was probably about 3 ft in length.

The Net

A net was also discovered, made of tree bast. Such a net was probably used for catching rabbits or birds.

The Belt

Otzi had a long belt with a pouch on the side. In the pouch he had several flakes of flint, a 2.8 in long bone awl, and a small drill. The majority of the pouch was filled with tinder fungus. Some traces of iron pyrites were also found, indicating that he was perhaps using a “flint and steel” method of fire lighting.

I find it very interesting to see how closely his kit resembles what many bushcrafters carry today. The only difference is that he is not carrying any means of quick shelter, and would have to rely on his clothing and the surrounding environment.

It is also interesting to see that the small amount of copper he possessed was used on the axe, and not the knife. This once again points to the significance of the axe to people who truly rely on their tools to survive in the wilderness.