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The man in the ice: c.3250 BC

A herdsman or huntsman, aged about forty-five, ventures unusually far up into the Alps, to the west of the Brenner Pass. Caught in a sudden blizzard, he places some of his equipment on a ledge of rock. He moves a few paces away to find somewhere to shelter. He stumbles and falls, face down, across a boulder. Too tired or too cold to pick himself up, he remains where he lies. Snow settles around him. It thickens and freezes into a layer of ice. The ice does not thaw for more than 5000 years - until one September day in 1991.

On that day two German climbers see the emerging head and shoulders of the iceman.

Carbon-14 analysis of the iceman's bones and equipment give him a date of approximately 3250 BC. He is by far the earliest human to be glimpsed in his everyday life, complete with the clothing and equipment of a day at work - as opposed to the special possessions selected for burial with great rulers.

The famous grave treasures of antiquity are much more recent than this ordinary man of the Alps. The royal cemetery at Ur is 750 years later. Tutankhamen is laid in his tomb nearly 2000 years after the iceman's death.

Equipment: c.3250 BC

The iceman's environment is classified by archaeologists as chalcolithic - a time when most tools in a farming community are still of stone, but copper is occasionally used. The only copper item among the iceman's possessions is the blade of his axe (one of the objects which he places carefully on the ledge of rock). It is a short narrow blade, made by pouring molten copper into a mould. Copper is too soft to maintain a very sharp edge; but this blade can easily be resharpened by grinding.

The blade is held in a haft of yew. It is glued into a groove with tar extracted from birch, and is then tightly bound with strips of leather or raw hide.

As befits a Stone Age man, the iceman has several items of flint among his possessions. The most impressive is his dagger; the flint blade is bound to a wooden handle and the weapon is kept in a scabbard of knotted fibres with a leather strip to attach it to the iceman's belt. The arrows in his fur quiver have sharp flint points. And he carries in a pouch on his belt three flint tools, variously used for cutting, scraping and boring holes.

Most interesting of all is a tool with a sharp point of antler set firm in a wooden handle. Its purpose is probably to keep the iceman's stone blades in good working order. He uses it to chip off tiny flakes of flint and thus to provide a sharp new cutting edge.

Clothing: c.3250 BC

The iceman's clothes are made of fur and leather, apart from an outer cloak of thick plaited grass. A complete animal-skin wardrobe is probably unusual in a neolithic community at this time (the spinning and weaving of wool being by now long familiar). It perhaps reflects the special requirements of the iceman's life in the mountains.

The thinnest and softest leather is used for a garment like a loincloth - probably worn in the traditional way (tucked into the belt at the back, then brought between the legs and up under the belt at the waist, with the remainder hanging down in front like an apron). The other main garments are of fur rather than leather.

Two tubes of fur are worn as separate leggings, reaching from the ankle up to the thigh. An upper garment, from the shoulders down to the knees, is sewn together from many long strips of fur. It is not well enough preserved for its design to be clear, but the iceman (or someone else) has used it for a considerable time; it has a large number of patchwork repairs. On his head the iceman wears a conical fur hat with a chin strap.

His wardrobe is completed by a pair of boots. They have leather soles and fur uppers and are tied round the ankles with grass cords. Grass is stuffed into them for added warmth.

Fire: c.3250 BC

Fire, for cooking as well as warmth, may be considered a necessity high in the Alps. In the pouch which the iceman carries at his belt are pieces of a tree fungus known as 'true tinder' fungus, traditionally used in many parts of the world as a way of creating Fire. The dry fungus, if suitably prepared, will catch the sparks which can be struck from flint and iron pyrites.

No iron pyrites has been found with the iceman, but he has a tube of birch bark lined with green maple leaves. In it are flakes of charcoal. It is believed to be a container in which he carries hot embers to prime his evening's fire.