One by one, they line up to pay their respects to an old man. Forming a snaking line, each person has their time to say hello and goodbye. What sounds like a normal funeral is somewhat different today. No one at this funeral knew the man behind the glass case. In fact, no one on the planet knew him. They don’t know his name. They don’t know the content of his character, the life he lived, or even why they are paying respects besides the fact that this man is 5,000 years old.
The story of Ötzi, the Iceman, technically began between 3350 B.C. and 3100 B.C., before Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt, before modern day travel with airplanes, spiffy backpacks, and travel gear. The modern world did not know the story of Ötzi until September of 1991. Two hikers decided to stray off of the trail in hopes of cutting their time with the ever-attractive shortcut. Walking in the Ötztal Alps, bordering Italy and Austria, the two stumbled upon an archaeological sensation. What they thought was just a fallen hiker turned out to be a fallen hiker of 5,000 years ago, one of the oldest mummies in the entire world.
The South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy puts on Ötzi’s funeral daily. Behind a glass case, visitors walk up, standing in probably the only respected and unhurried line in all of Italy. They peer inside a tiny window at the Iceman, quiet and in awe of his preservation. What makes Ötzi so special is not that he is a mummy, but an accidental one at that, preserved along with his belongings due to his placement at death in a glacier wrapped in ice.
The strange aspect to my visit was that I nearly missed my time with Ötzi. I scoured all of his clothing and equipment displays, admired his modern day apparel of leggings and topped things off with a look at the man’s hat, completely intact. Seeing all of Ötzi’s belongings had me considering how this Iceman from 5,000 years ago had more in common with travelers today than one might think.
In It For The Long Haul
Ötzi carried with him all necessary items, an extensive kit. The reason behind his hoarding was not merely for survival but also for travel and experience. Ötzi packed his backpack full of items that would allow him to be away from home for a long period of time. He didn’t need anyone. His kit made him self reliant, much like most solo travelers today.
Travel For Escapism
Ötzi died due to a flint arrowhead lodged in his shoulder along with experiencing some sort of fall. Archeologists could tell he was in a hand-to-hand combat the night before he died. Perhaps Ötzi was traveling to escape something or someone, heading for the hills so to speak to get away. Whether travelers want to admit it or not, there is usually some escape travel lends, whether it is a 9 to 5 job you can’t see an end to or a quest for adventure.
You Are Never Too Old
Ötzi was 45 years old when he died. Today, that is still relatively young. In Ötzi’s time, travel would not have been something for an “old” man. I often say travel is not limited to age, that physical and mental travel can be experienced no matter your year. Ötzi’s alpine journey proves he was doing something outside the norms of his Copper Age. Why can’t you?
What You Carry Carries You
As I wandered the museum, all of Ötzi’s possessions scatter about displays. A modest first aid kit, a backpack and a copper axe are among the finds. The copper axe noted Ötzi’s status of the time, indicating he was probably a chief, village representative or cattle owner. These items found with Ötzi all ended up defining his life. At the risk of sounding morbid, I look at my partially unpacked suitcase, spilling out with train tickets, tank tops and a curling iron. If I were to fall into a glacier with my travel pack and be found 5,000 years later, what would define me? Whatever you carry with you, not just physical items but also travel experiences defines you. Ötzi is “somewhat” living proof of that fact.
After viewing all of Ötzi’s belongings and learning about the man, I started to head upstairs. Ötzi had to be around here somewhere. My sister quickly motioned me down, that we had skipped the actual mummy viewing. I was so preoccupied with what Ötzi had with him and his story, I forgot to meet him. Walking up to Ötzi, I noticed similarities in our flat feet as a gripping sensation came over me. The hikers that stumbled upon him could have easily skipped that shortcut. Who knows if I would have ever had this moment with Ötzi. Despite how small the world may seem at times, I can’t help but wonder how many other icemen and ice-women are out there, travelers forever frozen in time.