Changing Holocene climate…was never steady
Researchers say the 5300-year-old Ötzi corpse didn’t remain covered by ice 5300 years long, but in fact was exposed again and again!
Figure 1. Orthophoto of the findspot in the Tisenjoch (1) and other locations mentioned in the text (2: Kesselwandferner, 3: Weißseespitze, 4: Hintereisferner, 5: Langgrubenjoch, 6: Gurgler Eisjoch). Orthophoto: Land Tirol – data.tirol.gv.at, attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)/geoland.at – Creative Commons Namensnennung 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0). Source: The Holocene journal.
Lots of experts believe that Ötzi, the corpse found at the Tisenjoch in the Alps in 1991, got uncovered for the first time in 5300 years due to the ice melting – from 20th century manmade global warming.
However, glacial archaeologists from Norway, Austria and Switzerland now believe Ötzi had been exposed “several times in the past 5300 years” and have published their findings in the journal The Holocene. This is reported in an article appearing here in the Swiss online NZZ.
In general, Ötzi researchers are quite sure about what had led to the ancient traveler’s death, but little was ever asked about what happened after he died. It was simply assumed that he stayed covered by ice 5300 years long – until modern manmade global warming caused the ice to melt and expose the body for the first time, allowing it to be discovered in 1991 in a hollow at an altitude of 3210 meters. Freed for the first time by global warming!
But now a team of glacial archaeologists think the body must have slid into the hollow afterwards and did not spend the millennia constantly covered by the ice, “but lay exposed again and again”.
“Ötzi’s body and its equipment are not the pristine time capsule they are portrayed as,” reports the NZZ.
This means the climate cycled between warm and cold phases during these 5000 years and the melting like that of today happened again and again. The climate had not been “more or less constant” like many researchers like to suggest.
The authors of the new study conclude that Ötzi likely died on the snow at a higher elevation, and then afterwards his corpse and equipment slid into the hollow. The ice field formed was “relatively small and thin and therefore probably melted several times”.
“The state of preservation also speaks against Ötzi being a time capsule from the ice. Twenty years ago, examinations of hairline cracks in the skull already showed that the corpse had repeatedly thawed and refrozen, reports the NZZ.
Also: “The part of the fur coat lying under the body was much better preserved than the rest, and on the back of Ötzi’s head – he was lying face down – the skin had disappeared. This also indicates that the body was exposed several times.”
Moreover, if Ötzi had actually been under the ice for 5300 years, nothing younger than the corpse should have been found on the floor of the hollow. But that is not the case, as a large number of much younger articles like plants, animal droppings, feathers and a piece of wood were found there as well, meaning the ice had to have melted again and again.
“Thus, even thousands of years after Ötzi’s death, material landed in the hollow again and again; consequently, it was not permanently covered by ice.”
By P Gosselin on 8. November 2022