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Primitive Skills: Making an Ötzi the Iceman Copper Axe


The world's most famous mummified neolithic human, ?-tzi the Iceman, carried an unusual copper axe. Here's how to make one just like it.

In 1991 two German tourists were hiking the ?-tztal Alps mountain range in southern Austria when they discovered a human corpse frozen in the snow and ice. They initially thought the body was that of some recently deceased mountaineer. They, along with the rest of the world, were later surprised to find that the mummified corpse was that of a man who lived over 5,000 years ago. That neolithic man became known as ?-tzi the Iceman.

The story of ?-tzi - his discovery, recovery, scientific analysis of his corpse and speculations surrounding the cause of his death - became a worldwide sensation. We won't explore that story here, although it makes for fascinating reading that we encourage you to "dig into".

Here we will take a look at how primitive archer and technology enthusiast Shawn Woods fashions a replica of one piece of gear that ?-tzi the Iceman had with him when his preserved body was discovered: a copper axe head.

The South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in northern Italy is the current home of ?-tzi the Iceman's body.  The museum reckons ?-tzi's copper axe to be "the most important item of the Iceman's equipment". They describe the weapon or tool as such:

"The carefully smoothed yew haft is around 60 cm long. At the top of the haft there is a forked shaft into which the blade was fixed with birch tar and tightly bound with thin leather straps to keep it in place.The 9.5 cm blade is trapezoidal in shape and made of almost pure copper. The narrow end was produced by cold-hammering after the blade was cast.

It allowed the blade, which shows clear signs of use, to be fixed more securely in the haft.

Archaeological experiments have shown that the copper axe was an ideal tool for felling trees and could fell a yew tree in 35 minutes without sharpening.

The axe was therefore not just a symbol of rank. In the period around 3000 years BC, copper axes were a status symbol and must have been cherished as weapons. Perhaps the Iceman was therefore a tribal leader or warrior."

Woods reproduction of the axe blade follows a similar method as that likely used by ?-tzi himself, albeit without the hammering process. Woods cast the entire blade.

Follow this link to get a brief glimpse of a few interesting surprising facts about Otzi the Iceman.

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NEXT: How to Butcher a Deer Using Stone Age Tools

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Primitive Skills: Making an Ötzi the Iceman Copper Axe