Monday, December 30, 2013

Discovery of “Otzi the Iceman” (1991)

Brown-eyed, bearded, furrow faced, and tired: this is how Ötzi the Iceman might have looked, according to the latest reconstruction based on 20 years of research and investigations.

Realized by two Dutch experts, Alfons and Adrie Kennis, the model was produced with the latest in forensic mapping technology that uses three-dimensional images of the mummy's skull as well as infrared and tomographic images.

In 1991 two hikers discovered the frozen body of a Bronze Age man in glacier ice in the Similaun Pass in the Tyrol Alps between Austria and Italy. Modern archaeological and biological forensic techniques have provided a wealth of information about the life and death of this mummified 5,000-yearold person.

"Otzi the Iceman," "Similaun man," or just "Iceman" was discovered by chance. At first the hikers and authorities thought he was of very recent provenance, but this serendipitous find turned out to be the oldest complete human body ever found. Over the next few years, although now carefully preserved at the University of Innsbruck's Institute of Prehistory and Early History, the Iceman was examined by numerous international scientific experts, for twenty-minute intervals, each adding their expertise, building up as complete a picture of his life and death during the Bronze Age as evidence allowed.

The Iceman was discovered at an altitude of 3,200 meters, making him not only the oldest body to be found in Europe, but also the highest prehistoric find as well. His body had been air dried before being enveloped by the glacier about 5,300 years ago. He was between thirty and forty years old, based on dental evidence, and he was 156-160 centimeters (5 feet 2 inches) high. His brain, muscles, heart, liver, and digestive organs were in good condition, although his lungs were blackened-probably from smoke from open fires. Eight of his ribs had been fractured, some of these had healed and others were healing when he died. Tattoos were found on both sides of his lower spine and on his left calf and right ankle, comprising two-centimeter-long parallel vertical blue lines. On his inner knee there was a tattoo of a blue cross. Most of his fingernails, except one, had dropped off. Analysis of the remaining one indicated that he had used his hands to work, and that he had also been ill, based on reduced nail growth, at four, three-, and two-month intervals before his death. DNA analysis of his tissue confirmed that he was of central or northern European origin.

The Iceman died with a variety of clothing and other possessions made from organic materials that usually do not survive. In this case, because they had been frozen, they had been preserved. These were the everyday belongings of a man from the late Stone Age, which, until now, had been the subject of speculation and ethnographic analogy. The Iceman's clothing, comprising pouch, loincloth, and leggings, were made from eight different species of animal, were carefully stitched together with sinew, and had been repaired. His coat was deerskin, his hat was bearskin, his calfskin shoes were filled with grass for warmth, and he had an outer cloak of woven grass or reeds. This latter garment was similar to those recorded as being worn by local people as late as the nineteenth century. His clothing did not belong to someone of high social status-evidence that the Iceman was probably a farmer and a shepherd.

The Iceman's equipment is the earliest of its kind to be found in Europe and comprised over 70 artifacts. He carried a small, 9.5-centimeter copper ax, with a yew wood haft and leather binding. He also had an unfinished yew bow, with 14 arrows in a deerskin quiver, only two of which were ready to use, with flint tips and feather fletching. Other artifacts found with the Iceman included a flint knife with a wooden handle and grass string sheath; a hazel and larch wood frame of what was probably a rucksack; a lime wood handle with a sharpened antler tip inserted into one end; a retouching tool for flint scraping; two birch bark containers; a small marble disc on a leather thong; a piece of net; two types of fungus-one a tinder fungus, and the other, on a leather thong, may have been medicinal; other flints, such as a scrapers and awls, and one for making fires; and small quantities of antlers and bones for sharpening into points. Iceman had used a surprisingly large variety of different plants to manufacture his kit. Food evidence included a sloe (a kind of plum) berry, fragments of meat bone from the vertebrae of an ibex, and some cereal grains.

Radiocarbon dates confirmed that Iceman died 5,200 years ago (ca. 3200 BC) at the beginning of the European Bronze Age. The wide variety of wood and animal species used by the Iceman in his tool kit and clothing is impressive. So too are his techniques for working wood, flint, leather, and grasses. In fact, the archaeological evidence revealed more about the Bronze Age world than just the body. However, all of this evidence, and the evidence from his body, particularly his age, diet, diseases, and genetics, greatly enhanced our understanding of the early Bronze Age in Europe. And all of this from a chance discovery that could have disappeared back into the snow again without ever being found.

Further Reading Bortenschlager, S., and K. Oeggl, eds. 2000. The Iceman and his natural environment: Palaeo-botanical results. Vienna, Austria: Springer. Dubowski, M. 1998. Ice mummy: The discovery of a 5,000-year-old man. New York: Random House. Fowler, B. 2001. Iceman: Uncovering the life and times of a prehistoric man found in an alpine glacier. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Climate change - Historicial Fact

The climate of England has been characterized as generally damp and relatively sunless but, as every native knows, the weather is as various as the land. In the south-east the summers are warm and the winters are cold, while in the north-west the winters are mild and the summers are cool. In the north-west four and a half hours of sunshine light up an average July day, while on the south coast six and a half hours can be anticipated; the western seaboard attracts 40 per cent more rainfall than the eastern. The predominant wind of autumn and of winter is from the south-west; in the spring it is the east. This was the weather that created a land of damp forests of oak and ash, of marshes and heath wrapped in mist. In the north and the west lay the moors and the mountains, where the soil was thin. This was the land of pasture rather than of crops, and the local farmers grew only as much corn as they needed for themselves. The south and east were the lowlands, with gradual undulations in the rich earth; this was ground as fit for corn as for cattle. It was the territory of ‘mixed farming’.

In the history of England these patterns of climate are of the utmost importance; if there is a drop in temperature of two degrees, as in the period from 500 to 300 BC, the prospect of adequate harvests in the north is noticeably curtailed. A difference of one degree made a failure of the harvest seven times more likely. In this period, then, we see the abandonment of upland farms and settlements. The southern land was warmer, and more stable; it was the home of the plentiful harvest, and the general dampness meant that crops could even be grown on lighter soils where sand and chalk prevailed. It is a general truth, therefore, that in the south-east the land was devoted to wheat whereas in the north it was given over to oats. But important regional variations were still found. Oxfordshire and north-east Suffolk grew wheat, whereas Norfolk grew more rye. Oats were the main crop in Lancashire, while rye was dominant in Yorkshire. Wheat and barley shared the ascendancy in Wiltshire whereas, in the rainier country west of that shire, barley predominated.

The people of the south were wealthier if not healthier than their counterparts in the north. So the climate is active in human history. It may also be that the drier east creates human communities different from those of the rainier west; marked contrasts of social systems in the first millennium BC are in fact evident, with small centres of lordly power in the west and more scattered settlements in the east. The isolated farmhouse and the small hamlet were characteristic of the north and west; the village and the manorial system of common cultivation were more usual in the south and east.

At the time of the Roman occupation the weather was warmer than at any period in subsequent history, but this was succeeded by colder and wetter conditions by the end of the fourth century. For ten years, beginning in AD 536, there was a very low level of sunlight; this would have been a time of dearth and famine, hitherto unrecorded. It might also be noted that Alfred was credited with the invention of a clock that allowed him to tell the time when the prevailing fogs obscured the sun.

The climate of 1009 and 1010 was recorded by a Benedictine monk, Byrhtferth, who dwelled in East Anglia; the winter lasted from 7 November to 6 February, being cold and moist; the spring from 7 February to 8 May was moist and hot; summer from 9 May to 6 August was hot and dry; autumn from 7 August to 6 November was dry and cold. He was only one of the clerics who kept a detailed record of the conditions of the weather.

The eleventh and twelve centuries were in fact warmer than those immediately preceding them, but a deterioration of climate took place in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; the annals of these later centuries also mention the increasing incidence of floods and droughts, suggesting greater instability. Hard frosts lasted into spring, and violent gales brought down the trees of the forests. The Thames froze in the winter of 1309–10, and the years 1315 and 1316 were marked by endless rain. The harvests failed, and the dead were buried in common graves. It was a time of epidemic disease. Crime rates rose proportionately.

The increase of rainfall, in the fourteenth century, is marked by the construction of drainage ditches and house platforms; church floors were raised, and the lower halves of some villages were deserted. The carpenter in Chaucer’s ‘The Miller’s Tale’ reveals an obsessive fear of another Great Flood covering the earth. The extraordinary wind of 14 January 1362 was widely believed to be a harbinger of the Day of Judgment. In the medieval period the weather is the lord of all. Outer weather creates inner weather. It would be possible to write the history of England as the history of the English climate.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


The enemy attacks! Full-blown battles were fought at the time of the Tollund Man. More illustrations. © Niels Bach

Among the earliest and most widespread of man's weapons is the spear. Originally it was merely a wooden pole with one end sharpened with a stone or piece of bone, but once palaeolithic man had discovered fire, some 500,000 years ago, charring was also used to harden and sharpen the tip. The next stage was to insert pieces of stone or bone in order to reinforce the point, and then to fit a stone head. From a very early period there were two types of spear, thrusting and throwing. The throwing spear, or javelin, tended to be lighter and in order to increase its range a device called the spear thrower was introduced. This acted as a lever and was a piece of shaped wood, bone or horn with a hook or recess into which the end of the spear fitted. 

Two of man's other original weapons are the club and the axe. The club was originally made of hardwood, the head being larger than the handle. Like the tip of the spear, the head was then reinforced with stone. The original axe was made entirely of stone, simply an almond-shaped head sharpened by flaking. In about 3500 BC the wooden haft or handle was introduced, being attached to the stone head by means of bent wood, horn sockets, lashing and gum. Then, during the neolithic or New Stone Age era, 7000-2000 BC, the art of grinding, polishing and drilling of stone was developed, which radically increased the effectiveness of the axe, both as a tool and as a weapon of war. The head was now often fitted to the handle by means of a circular hole drilled through it, known as the `eye'. 

Perhaps surprisingly, the bow was already in existence around 15000 BC. It was first developed by the Mediterranean civilizations, and was taken up in northern Europe during the ninth millennium. From the start, yew, because of its good tensile characteristics, was the preferred wood, although in colder climates, where yew did not grow, elm and occasionally pine were used. Most bows were man-sized, and by the third millennium the composite bow, strengthened with horn and sinews, was in use in some regions. The string was normally made with plaited leather strips. Stone arrowheads were used, and the arrow itself was straightened by passing it through a hole drilled in bone or horn. In order to obtain arrows of standard size-important in terms of accuracy-they were shaved by means of a hollow tube cut as grooves in a split stone. The other basic weapon was the slingshot, a spherically shaped stone which was projected from a leather sling, which the firer whirled above his head in a circular motion in order to impart increased velocity to the stone.

Late Ice Age hunting technology
Knecht's (1994) study of the evolution of Upper Palaeolithic projectile points has shown in detail how people adapted to the ice age environment and to the animals available for hunting. It has also demonstrated advanced conceptual abilities among these people and an acute awareness of the physical properties of the raw materials that were available. Knecht was able to illustrate technological progress towards more efficient, flexible spears. Another major consideration in the gradual changes in material and design was the ease of repair whilst away from camp. She also carried out experiments using a goat carcass to test the velocity and efficiency of the spearpoints as hunting weapons. Her findings corroborate those from Stellmoor. Flint points propelled by bow, spear-thrower or unaided human muscles were formidable weapons, capable of penetrating animal tissue and bone. The hunting of large, dangerous prey could be carried out effectively and more safely from a distance.