Iceman: Uncovering the Life and Times of a Prehistoric Man Found in an Alpine Glacier

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9780679431671: Iceman: Uncovering the Life and Times of a Prehistoric Man Found in an Alpine Glacier

On a warm September day in 1991, two German hikers stumbled upon a frozen, intact body melting out of the remains of a glacier in the Tyrolean Alps. Over the next few days, as a parade of often irreverent visitors poked and prodded the mummy-like corpse, curious items began to emerge from the ice: an ax with a metal blade, a longbow, finely stitched leather clothing, and--most astonishing of all--boots stuffed with grass. But only after the corpse was recovered and taken for an autopsy to the medical examiner in Innsbruck, Austria, did a vigilant archaeologist recognize that this was no ordinary dead body.

Iceman is the story of the international scientific investigation launched to study the world's oldest naturally preserved human corpse and the astounding cache of prehistoric personal effects found with it. The dramatic narrative takes us from the day of the Iceman's discovery through eight years of scientific investigation, political intrigue, bizarre theories, and ravenous media coverage.

The product of more than one hundred interviews with researchers in Austria, Italy, and Germany, Iceman follows scientists into labs and archaeologists into the field as they search for clues to the life and times of a man who lived before the advent of writing and cities. Who was he? Why were parts of his equipment damaged and unfinished? Where was he going? How did he die?

Iceman is not merely a compendium of data but the story of the forces that produced and shaped them. At times, debates over who owned the Iceman and what should be done with him overshadowed the research. Brenda Fowler chronicles the scientists' squabbles and ego trips and the unexpected twists in the research, including the claim that the Iceman was a fraud and the mystery of his missing penis. Along the way, the authority of science is powerfully questioned and then, largely, reaffirmed in a surprise ending that has already led to a reexamination of the Iceman's final hours and his five millennia in the ice.

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Review:

In 1991, a dead man was found in a glacier on the Italian side of the Tyrolean Alps. How could he have known, as he settled down for a very long winter's nap, that his discovery would unleash a circus of political, scientific, and journalistic shenanigans that would make and break careers and cause international tension? Science writer Brenda Fowler takes a peek at the bizarre odyssey of this incredibly well-preserved frozen corpse in Iceman, covering every step of his transition from Stone Age accident victim to celebrity specimen to museum piece. The cast of characters involved is large and colorful, including archaeologists, smalltime politicians, curators, writers, and even channelers claiming to speak for Ötzi, as he came to be known. Initially taken to Austria and studied there, he was brought back closer to where he was found in northern Italy after years of political and scientific wrangling, though evidence suggests he may have originally come from modern-day Switzerland. Beyond the battles between nationalistic and egotistical players, Iceman contains an absorbing examination of the scientific process at work: hypotheses announced and discarded, the accretion of new evidence, and the ever-narrowing range of explanations for the find. The story is far from over, as research continues even as the question of Ötzi's resting place is settled (temporarily?). With luck, we may soon learn as much about our recent ancestors as we recently learned about ourselves. --Rob Lightner

From the Back Cover:

"A remarkable story, brilliantly told....Brenda Fowler's account of the Iceman's discovery, the subsequent politicking between Austrian and Italian authorities over ownership, and the battle of egos among the scientists who had the privilege of glimpsing, in unprecedented detail, life in early Europe reads like a gripping detective novel."


--Roger Lewin

"A meticulous and smoothly constructed account of the bungled recovery and long, complex analysis of one of the most remarkable archaeological finds of recent years."
--Ian Tattersall, American Museum of Natural History

"I really admire this book! Written in sharp, clear prose, it works very well as a detective story, and the quality of research and depth of thought are standards for any work of popular science."


--Jonathan Marks, University of California at Berkeley

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