ZURICH, Switzerland – A prehistoric hunter known as Oetzi whose well-preserved body was found on a snow-covered mountain in the Alps died more than 5,000 years ago after being struck in the back by an arrow, scientists said in an article published Wednesday.
Researchers from Switzerland and Italy used newly developed medical scanners to examine the hunter's frozen corpse to determine that the arrow had torn a hole in an artery beneath his left collarbone, leading to a massive loss of blood.
That, in turn, caused Oetzi to go into shock and suffer a heart attack, according to the article published online in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
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Even today, the chances of surviving such an injury long enough to receive hospital treatment are only 40 percent, according to the article.
Oetzi, also known as the Iceman, caused a sensation after his body was discovered by hikers in 1991 on a glacier 10,500 feet above sea level on the border between Austria and Italy.
The body has provided researchers with a wealth of information about the late Neolithic Age, or 3,300 to 3,100 B.C.
Archaeologists believe Oetzi, who was carrying a bow, a quiver of arrows and a copper ax, may have been a hunter or warrior killed in a skirmish with a rival tribe.
The fact that the arrow's shaft was pulled out before his death may have worsened the injury, said Frank Ruehli of the University of Zurich, who carried out the research with scientists from Bolzano, Italy, where the iceman's body is preserved.
The findings confirm earlier suspicions that linked the arrowhead embedded in Oetzi's body with his death, and virtually rule out other theories that he had been the victim of a ritual sacrifice or had gotten caught in a storm.
The use of high-resolution computer tomography — normally used to diagnose living patients — allowed the researchers to create three-dimensional images of Oetzi without having to use surgical procedures that would have damaged the body.
"Five years ago this would definitely have been more difficult," Ruehli told The Associated Press.
"They've applied noninvasive techniques from medical imaging to a specific question and have confirmed that it was the arrow which killed Oetzi, without having to thaw him out," Dean Falk, professor of anthropology at Florida State University, said in a telephone interview.
"I think it's very illustrative of the importance of these new techniques to science," said Falk, who had previously studied the corpse but did not take part in the latest research.