We are all Europeans

Ötzi Memorial in the Ötztaler Alpen, place of discovery. Photo: Wikipedia.

On September 19, 1991, two hikers found a human corpse along the Italian-Austrian border in the Ötztalalps. The story of Ötzi has begun. The hikers thought the body to be a victim of a recent mountaineering accident. The authorities opened a criminal proceeding and an enquiry into the identity of the body on September 20 however, because the corpse displayed a head wound and the involvement of a third party seemed clear. It was on September 21 however, that the first expert estimated the finds to be at least 500 years old, perhaps even much older. An archaeologist was brought in three days later and he immediately dated the corpse and the finds to be at least four thousand years old, in the Early Bronze Age at the latest. The finds included numerous pieces of leather, a dagger and an axe. The age of the Iceman, as he was called, it was a he, was provided by a radio rabon dating method, the C-14 method. The Iceman lived between 3350 and 3500 BC, more than 5 000 years ago. They Austrians called him Ötzi, in reference to the adjoining Ötz valley, the Italians called him the Iceman (L´Uomo venuto dal ghiaccio) however. Austrian archaeologists, mountain rescue teams, public prosecutor, gendarmerie, journalists and public were involved from the moment of the discovery. Was Ötzi ´Austrian´ however ?

One hundred years ago, there should have been no doubt, but the First World War and the Treaty of St. Germain (1919) changed the borders between Austria and Italy. The border was withdrawn along the watershed of the Inn and Etsch (Adigo) Valleys the new Italian German speaking region was called Alte Adigo (South Tyrol in German). The Brenner pass was an obvious border, but the mountainous location of the watershed was more complicated to establish and not relevant, until Ötzi was discovered. Ötzi caused a new survey of the exact borderline. Original frontiers documents from 1919, distance measuring instruments and boundary stones were compared. It appeared that Ötzi or L´Uomo venuto dal ghiaccio, Alte Adigo is bilingual, was 92.36 m beyond the frontier in Italy. Ötzi was Italian after all. The autonomous province of Alte Adigo claimed Ötzi, although allowing Austrian archaeologists to initiate further investigations and to complete the scientific examinations in Innsbruck. Ötzi was moved back to Italy in 1998. The South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano (Bozen) contains an exhibition documenting all aspects of Ötzi, his life and region. Ötzi can be seen through a tempered glass and as a magnificent reconstruction. Ötzi himself was neither Italian, nor Austrian, but a member of a tribe and/or family. Europe, Italy and Austria are modern creations (Source: A. Fleckinger, Ötzi, the Iceman, Vienna, Bolzano, 2014).