Possible evidence for care and treatment in the Tyrolean Iceman

Int J Paleopathol. 2019 Jun;25:110-117. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpp.2018.07.006. Epub 2018 Aug 8.


The Tyrolean Iceman is the world's oldest glacier mummy. He was found in September 1991 in the Italian part of the Ötztal Alps. Since his discovery a variety of morphological, radiological and molecular analyses have been performed that revealed detailed insights into his state of health. Despite the various pathological conditions found in the Iceman, little is known about possible forms of care and treatment during the Copper Age in Northern Italy. A possible approach to this topic is the presence of tattoos on the mummified body. In previous work, it was already believed that the tattoos were administered as a kind of treatment for his lower back pain and degenerative joint disease of his knees, hip and wrist. In other studies, the tattoos of the Iceman have been related to an early form of acupuncture. We carefully re-evaluated the various health issues of the Iceman, including joint diseases, gastrointestinal problems and arterial calcifications and compared them to the location and number of tattoos. Together with the finding of medically effective fungi and plants, such as the birch polypore or fern in his equipment and intestines, we suggest that care and treatment was already common during the Iceman's time.

Keywords: Care; Iceman; Tattoos; Treatment.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy
  • Carbon Isotopes / analysis
  • Diet
  • Fungi
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / diagnostic imaging
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / history*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / therapy
  • Health Services / history*
  • Health Status
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Ice Cover
  • Italy
  • Joint Diseases / diagnostic imaging
  • Joint Diseases / history*
  • Joint Diseases / therapy
  • Male
  • Mummies / diagnostic imaging
  • Mummies / history*
  • Nitrogen Isotopes / analysis
  • Plants, Medicinal
  • Tattooing / history*
  • Vascular Calcification / diagnostic imaging
  • Vascular Calcification / history*
  • Vascular Calcification / therapy


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Nitrogen Isotopes