6-7 November 2023
Trento to Bolzano is a direct, 50-minute train passage through spectacular scenery. This is the gateway to the Dolomites, the Tyrol. Tall escarpments and snow-capped peaks tower overhead while vineyards cover the valleys. Grape leaves are beginning to yellow, valley trees are in full yellow and red fall colors.
Puffs of white cloud drift over the peaks with their dusting of snow. Nothing serious as yet; ski season is not quite ready. It feels warm for this time in November, and probably is. A fast moving river tumbles and plunges down the valley. As I climb further into the Italian Alps, I become more enthralled with its pristine beauty.
Arriving at the Bolzano train station, I feel like I’m in Austria, though I’m not. Immediately, I see my first Tyrolean hat, named thus as the Tyrol is where it was first produced. It seems to lack the traditional rooster feather. I hear more German than Italian. Signage is in both languages.
My Hotel Regina is just a few steps from the station. I toss my bags in my room and head out to meet “the Man.”
Ötzi the Iceman
In 1991, not far from Bolzano, an amazing discovery was made. Within the ice of the Ötztal Alps, some 10,530’ near the Austrian-Italian border, Europe’s oldest human was discovered. Thus began the worldwide fame for Ötzi the Iceman.
Two German tourists discovered Ötzi. When first seen, the tourists thought they were looking at a recently-deceased mountain climber. Ötzi’s amazing level of preservation is attributed to his encasement in ice shortly after his death. Since his discovery, Ötzi has undergone extensive analysis.
Ötzi lived sometime during the Copper Age between 3239 and 3105 BCE. Because he was found with an arrowhead in his left shoulder, along with other evidence of wounds, scientists believe Ötzi was killed.
On display is the arrowhead which “murdered” Ötzi, surprisingly small at less than an inch. Medical theory is the tiny arrow unfortunately sliced an artery and Ötzi bled to death.
Around the remains were personal possessions, including clothing, bow and arrows, and an ax which helped to tell the life and death of Ötzi. Despite border disputes in the region where Ötzi was found, Italy was to prevail and ultimately claimed the body. Ötzi and his life story is on display in Bolzano’s South Tyrol Archeological Museum.
Museum Built and Dedicated to Ötzi
Ötzi is described as 5’3” tall, weighing about 110 lbs, and about 45 years-old at time of death. Analysis of all things Ötzi indicates he spent his childhood just north of Bolzano before moving into the valleys farther north as an adult. Scientist even found partly digested ibex/wild goat meat and wheat grains still in his stomach – Ötzi’s last meal. In fact, a meal eaten some 8 hours before his death indicated he had enjoyed some red deer, herb bread, roots and fruits. Evidently, Ötzi was a sensible eater.
His body continues to be preserved for science. You can see him in his own refrigeration room. Though lovingly cared for, everyone and everything refers to him as a “mummy.” The museum does an excellent job of personalizing Ötzi, so I would think Ötzi deserves a kinder, more dignified reference. The last room in the museum displays an incredibly well-constructed, life-like reconstruction of Ötzi.
Ötzi has been left with little privacy as a result of these extensive examinations. Not only is it known what he ate, but where he dined. Hair analysis show high levels of copper and arsenic, so it is believed he was a copper smelter. His bones show his daily regime included long walks over hilly terrain. Maybe he was a shepherd who smelted. Or, was Ötzi a hunter, warrior, trader of chieftain?
Ötzi had intestinal worms, 61 tattoos, lots of tooth cavities, and old and new broken bones. Modern chemical analysis indicate he also suffered from Lime Disease and was lactose intolerant. He was also found to be carrying birch polyphore fungus, an anti inflammatory and natural antibiotic, leading to speculation he could have been a shaman. Personally, for a man over 40 with his medical diagnosis, I believe Ötzi was wisely self-medicating.
Ötzi blood type was O+. His DNA genome has been sequenced and his paternal Y DNA shows he belongs to the G subclade. So, if you have tested Y defined by G-L91, G2a2b, or match the mitochondrial subclade of K1, you are sharing an ancient ancestor with Ötzi.
Bolzano or Bozen?
It doesn’t take long to realize Bolzano is a city with two separate personalities – Italian and German. Names, language, food and drink reflect an historic Austrian influence. I feel like I am in Austria. Everything seems to have dual names. I hear far more “auf wiedersehen” than “arrivederci.”
Dining is a mix of Italian, German and regional Tyrollean. While I enjoy my afternoon Prosecco, draft beer is my drink of choice with dinner. There is plenty of good brews in the region. The Alto Adige region is also famous for Speck, a dry-cured, smoked ham. (Speck differs from prosciutto as it is lightly smoked.) Speck, with pickle and horseradish, combined with a big mug of Weizn beer, and fantastic mountain views, and I am a happy traveler.
A toast to Ötzi.