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Murder in the Ice

2 minute read
Jeffrey Kluger

When a mysterious death goes unsolved for 5,300 years, you’d think investigators would give up. Last week, however, the coldest of cold cases was cracked when scientists announced that they had determined what killed the Iceman, the Stone Age hunter whose remains were unearthed in the Alps 10 years ago. The verdict? Murder.

The discovery of the Iceman jolted the archaeological community because of the peek it provided into Stone Age life. The Alpine cold and snow preserved not only the ancient man’s bone and tissue but also his clothes and tools. What was lost to history was the cause of death, and investigators assumed that he had died in a fall or had fallen asleep and succumbed to the cold.

But the end was nastier than that. When the Iceman was extensively X-rayed, researchers noticed a suspicious shadow under his left shoulder. Only recently was a CT scan used as well, and it confirmed that the shadow was an arrowhead. Its position made scientists wince.

The Iceman, they concluded, was shot from below. The arrow entered his body and paralyzed his arm. Though major organs were spared, major vessels were not. If an artery was severed, the hunter could have bled out in five minutes. If a vein was cut, he may have lingered for six frigid hours.

The identity of the killer remains a mystery. Researchers have no way of knowing whether the Iceman died in a battle, a personal feud or even a Stone Age robbery. “I think he had big trouble with other people of his area,” guesses pathologist Eduard Egarter Vigl, the Iceman’s curator. Just who those people were or what that trouble was is a secret that, for now at least, is being kept by the snows.

–By Jeffrey Kluger

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Write to Jeffrey Kluger at jeffrey.kluger@time.com