It was 25 years ago this week when Europe's oldest human mummy was discovered by hikers who were a snowball's throw from the Austrian-Italian border.

But the remarkable tale of 'Otzi', a dead man found in the Alps, is still fascinating scientists who continue to learn more about the 5,300-year-old corpse.

After the shock discovery, the police were notified about the frozen body in September 1991 and they immediately launched a criminal probe.

The corpse was placed in a wooden coffin at a nearby police station and officers were stunned to find out that the person had died around 3350-3100 BC.


And one upside to global warming is that more treasures may be discovered, like the snowshoe found nearby that was recently revealed to be 500 years older even than Otzi.

Albert Zink, director at the EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, said that studying the bacteria in his stomach could help advances in modern medicine.

He said: "People are more aware now that there could be more mummies in the mountains, and the melting of the glaciers makes us hope or maybe believe there could be more."

Meanwhile, Angelika Fleckinger, director of the museum in Bolzano, Italy, where the mummy is on display, said the discovery is "outstanding".

She said: "The iceman is without doubt one of the most outstanding mummy discoveries in the history of mankind.

"It's a unique window into the prehistoric era, and gives us an incredible amount of information."

Research suggests that Otzi lived during the Late Neolithic or Copper Age when mineral extraction and copper smelting, which spread to Europe from the Near East, was fundamentally transforming human society.

An arrowhead was discovered in his shoulder, only found in 2001, which showed he had been shot from behind.

He would have bled to death in minutes and was possibly finished off with a whack on the head.

Otzi had at least had a large meal including barbecued ibex around 12 hours earlier, the contents of his stomach showed.

And his untimely demise high in the mountains meant for scientists that he was incredibly well-preserved, allowing detailed studies.

Unlike other ancient mummies, Otzi is "damp", meaning there is still humidity in his cells and his body is untouched by funeral rites. Egyptian specimens are generally without brains and other organs.

The findings include that Otzi was lactose intolerant and genetically predisposition to heart disease, as shown by his hardened arteries, something thought of before as a modern phenomenon.

Examination of Otzi at the Archaeological Museum of Bolzano, Italy. Photo / AP
Examination of Otzi at the Archaeological Museum of Bolzano, Italy. Photo / AP

The 30 types of pollen in his intestines and the isotopic composition of his tooth enamel suggest he lived just south of the Alps.

Otzi was around 46 when he died, a good age for his time.

And with not an ounce of excess fat, he must have been fit. He had brown eyes, a beard, long hair - and 61 tattoos.

But these were not ornamental but medicinal. They were where there were signs of wear, and correspond to pressure points used in acupuncture today.

Before Otzi was discovered, it was thought this technique originated 2000 years later in Asia.

What he did have though was an axe with a copper blade, which would have been a coveted object - the iPhone 7 of his day - as well as a wealth of other equipment.

This included a quiver of arrows, a dagger, two types of tree fungus, one probably for lighting fires and another medicinal, and a pencil-like tool for sharpening arrows.

His clothing is also well preserved, including leggings and a coat made from goat hide, a hat of bear fur, shoes of tree bast netting, hay and deer skin, and even a backpack and possible cape.

All this, plus Otzi himself inside a special air-conditioned container, can be seen in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, which attracts 260,000 visitors a year from the world over and where queues are often long.

Roberta Agosti, from the Bolzano tourism office, said: "We could say that Otzi has put Bolzano/Bozen on the map."