Sunday, February 19, 2006

Free Utzi, er, Otzi, um, Oetzi, oh, heck, The Iceman!

Never say, "oops." Always say, "Ah, interesting." ~Author Unknown

Before launching into this important topic, I must give credit to a columnist over at Wired who has succinctly distilled the whole Internet commentary scene down to its essentials. I’m presuming he had long experience on the Usenet, whence these forms originated.

Okay, back to the subject at hand. Back in 1991, hikers in the Alps between Italy and Austria found a body frozen in the snow. Police were called in to investigate, but, after digging the body out (and inadvertently destroying some of his stuff) the goods they found convinced them they were on to something considerably more interesting than tourist-cicle. Scientists were called in, and the final exhumation of the Ice Man was done with considerably more care.

He became known as “Oetzi” (which is the spelling I’m going with – deal with it) which was the name of the locale where he was found. Initially, I believe he ended up in Austria, but as interest grew in this mummified fellow, Italy decided they wanted him. So here’s this guy, 5300 years old, and the first thing that happens to him in the twentieth century is to become embroiled in a lawsuit.

Anthropologists were, of course, beside themselves with joy over the discovery. Not only did they have an ancient human corpse to investigate, they had Oetzi’s stuff: A beautiful bronze ax; some not-so-beautiful unfinished arrows; a bow, also not finished; a knife; a grass cape; grass socks (okay, shoes stuffed with grass for insulation, but my way was funnier); a pouch full of medicinal herbs; and so on. The guy was an advertisement for a Bronze Age L. L. Bean. He had tattoos, which always sets an anthropologist’s heart to fluttering.

Theories about who Oetzi was (since he neglected to bring his ID card), where he was going, what he was doing, and how he died were legion. He was a shepherd; he was a merchant; he was a shaman. Generally, though, it was agreed that this poor fellow had been caught in an unexpected storm and froze to death.

Perhaps it was because of the time Oetzi was tied up in court or just because scientists are human, but in 2001, 10 years after he was found, someone finally discovered a hole in his back. All right, it was a small hole, but you’d have thought someone would have stopped oogling hard-to-see tattoos long enough to notice that there was a puncture wound near his shoulder blade.

It took a CAT scan to find out what had come through the hole: An arrow head, which was still inside ol’ Oetzi’s shoulder. Oops, or rather, “ah, interesting,” said the anthropologists. Perhaps he didn’t just get caught in a storm and freeze to death. Maybe he had some unrequested assistance.

Well, now that it was a murder case, Discovery Channel saw considerably more potential in the Iceman, and promptly gave us CSI:Oetzi. Okay, they didn’t call it that, but they gathered up all manner of scientists, including, of course, a pathologist (the one, in fact, who had discovered the arrow). Don’t get me wrong, the show was pretty good, although they ran through all the theories about Oetzi, including ones that had been blown out of the water years ago. They then created fanciful scenarios, up to and including the obligatory raid on the village by totally evil outsiders wearing funny things on their heads and grunting a lot.

As I said, the show was good if you gleaned the real information that it offered and drew your own conclusions. It was sort of sad, though, to see Iceman’s life bent to fit TV’s soap opera mentality. But, I figured that they had gone as far as they could with that stuff, so Oetzi could rest peacefully from here on out, aside from the occasional poking from yet another anthropologist.

Poke they did, and, by golly, this time they’ve gone too far. Now they’re messing with Oetzi’s sex life. There is evidence that Oetzi was infertile.

Being infertile would not, of itself, prevent Oetzi from ...ah, er … having a good time on a Bronze Age Saturday Night (wasn't there a doo-wop song by that title?), but not producing children would make him odd man out in the tribe. People back then realized that having children was important if the tribe was going to hang on, so someone who didn’t seem to produce any little Oetzis wouldn’t be regarded very highly.

It’s bad enough that they demoted him from shaman to cast-off and got him murdered to boot, but now they’re besmirching his manhood. Next they’ll be saying he was gay. And, no, I don’t want to speculate on how they’ll come up with that one.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a gay Neolithic frozen guy, but maybe he’s not ready to come out of the closet. Then again, maybe 5000 years ago people were more broad-minded.

Nonetheless, I say it’s time to leave Oetzi alone, by golly. Let’s give him a nice display case in that South Tyrol museum and show a diorama of him in his grass-caped glory. Lay out all his tools and clothes with nice little explanations of what we think they might have been for. Talk about how he might have been mugged in that valley. But let’s not get so damnably personal.

There are some things that science was not meant to know.

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