Bolzano’s top attraction by far is the Museo Archeologico, a superb and informative exhibition built around the Ice Man, a frozen, mummified body discovered in the ice of the Ötzaler Alps in 1991, just 92m from the border with Austria. At first a policeman estimated the body – nicknamed “Ötzi” – to be around 100 years old – he was out by around 5200 years, as later experts dated the corpse to around 3300 BC. Visitors queue up to peer into the €200,000-per-year, temperature-controlled cell where the surprisingly diminutive Ötzi lies dry-frozen, his complexion that of dry-cured ham and glistening with tiny ice crystals, but it’s the rest of the exhibits that really hold interest for most. These include possessions found on or around the body – his still serviceable bearskin cap, his longbow and arrows, firelighting gear, a shamanic first-aid kit – as well as an incredibly realistic, life-size silicon model showing what experts think Ötzi would have looked like and numerous displays and films explaining how he came to be preserved on the mountainside. The Ötzi story is one of the most fascinating archeology has ever produced and arguments about who he was and how he died rage on in academia.
The Ötzi Cult
Since Europe’s most famous ice man was discovered on a lonely Alpine mountainside, an entire culture has sprouted around this anonymous Ladin forebear. Conspiracy theories have come thick and fast with some “revealing” Ötzi to be a Peruvian mummy transported to the Alps for publicity purposes. Others have claimed to be his direct descendants, while the “Ötzi diaries”, which appeared in the wake of the infamous “Hitler diaries” were quickly dismissed as a bit of tomfoolery. Perhaps more seriously, the “Ötzi curse” stems from the fact that he was found on a palindromic date (19.9.1991), and indeed some people linked with the discovery have since died. But the most bizarre episode concerning the icy corpse came when a woman offered to bear a child using Ötzi’s 5000-year-old sperm. The offer was politely rejected.