The Italian Job: Day 17 – Finding Oetzi

While thunder interrupted yesterday afternoon’s time in the park, I had plans for the evening.

The rain (at least most of it passed) and I caught the No 10 bus into town, with a highly entertaining trip.

Smallscale (the kids’ age ranges go from about three to only seven years of age so of course it was small scale) sibling warfare has broken out.

A small boy was sitting quietly looking out of the window, away from his sisters and little brother (he’s five you know, too old for their nonsense; he gave me quite the 1,000 yard stare as I sat down) – where Mum could keep her eye on him – but once a group seat of four became available,  Mum wanted the family to sit together (mostly, I suspect because she thought she would keep them in order but also…to pretend that they liked eachother).

Small boy was having none of this. Big sister was sent to fetch brother.

Small boy was not best pleased – arms and feet were flying.

Meanwhile this was all happening as the bus driver treated corners as hairpin bends and set off from each stop with his foot to the floor.

Every passenger who tried to validate their ticket at the middle door has was flung almost to the back of the bus. Their windmilling arms did bugger all to save them.

Then a woman boarded and started singing loudly into her phone. The Battle of the Bus was still underway down the front of the vehicle but the kids took occasional pauses to imitate her, resulting in a shout from their mother. The singing woman didn’t care and merely sang louder

I could kinda see why the bus driver wanted this torment to be over.

I left the bus, the skirmish still underway, and headed off to the Concert Hall for a performance by Vision String Quartet.

Vision String Quartet – Go and see them: they are very good

When I’d booked my ticket for Saturday night, almost every seat in the stalls and circle was taken.

By shortly after 7.30pm, virtually every seat was empty. The attendants appeared to be lingering before closing the doors to allow more of the audience to arrive.

The lights dimmed at 7.35pm but there could only have been 10% of the seats filled. The spound of strings being plucked filled the auditorium and less than five minutes later, the performers took to the stage. The hall never filled and I suppose a live performance of the album Spectrum wasn’t too everyone’s taste. After the first half, I wasn’t sure it was to mine either but I try to make a point of seeing live music when I’m travelling (and I’ve seen some shit). I had checked for performances in every place I had stayed so far.

The first half appeared to be devoted to the nerve-jangling and incidental music of twisted, crime thrillers – you know, the ones where the serial killer gets creative.

The woman sitting behind me didn’t like it either and she left, never to return, during the interval… which is a shame because the second half was brilliant.

After a breakfast of avocado toast and poached egg with an unexpected ham surprise,… the surprise being it wasn’t included in the menu description… I headed off to see Oetzi the Iceman.

The egg and toast were buried deep underneath the ham.

It was International Museums Day today and I had already booked my free ticket, not yet having discovered the MuseuMobil Golden Ticket. People were taking advantage of the free museum visiting and it was busy. I would not be spending my entire day in museums when it was so sunny but I was making an exception for Oetzi.

The Iceman was discovered in 1991 by a couple walking an alpine path. Initially, the body was thought to be that of a local man who had recently been reported missing.

Oetzi’s remains indicated that this body had lain in the ice for longer than a few weeks.

But the establishment of exactly how long this body had been in the mountains and how old this person was would take a little while to work out. Was he a World War I deserter? Was he a notorious robber? You notice how theories went straight to libelling the guy.

Analysis finally established he was over 5,000 years old.

The discovery and analysis of Oetzi’s body, and the items he was wearing and carrying, meant we now know that the Copper Age started in this region 1,000 years earlier than previously thought – a few textbooks were to be rewritten.

The location of his body, just off a popular alpine trail, suggested that this path (and many others like it criss-crossing the mountains) had been in use for much longer than had been guessed at.

Analysis of his DNA – 5,000 years old is an unusual opportunity to say the least – has contributed to a better understanding of cardiovascular diseases. In his stomach, the poor guy had helicobacter pylori bacteria which meant he was probably suffering from stomach ulcers. It’s still found in half of the population today but it was only identified as a cause of ulcers around ten years before Oetzi was found.


Digression, because I think this is an amazing story:

Dr. Barry J. Marshall and Dr. J. Robin Warren were awarded a Nobel Prize in 2005 for their discovery of the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterium and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease.

Until their breakthrough in 1982, the long-held view was that spicy foods or stress caused ulcer disease.

They initiated a study of biopsies from 100 patients. Marshall succeeded in cultivating a previously unknown bacterial species – later named Helicobacter pylori – from several of these biopsies. They found that the organism was present in almost all patients with gastric inflammation, duodenal ulcer, or gastric ulcer. Based on these results, they proposed that this newly identified bacterium caused these diseases.

So entrenched was the belief that lifestyle (alcohol, smoking and stress) caused ulcers that, even with their evidence, it was difficult for these two researchers to convince the world of H. pylori’s role in ulcer disease. In fact, Alfred Nobel himself said in the late 19th century, “Worry is the stomach’s worst poison.”

To provide even more conclusive evidence, in 1985 Marshall deliberately infected himself with the bacterium and established his own stomach illness. He drank a beaker full of cultured bacteria – apparently it stank.

H. pylori causes more than 90% of duodenal ulcers and up to 80% of gastric ulcers. These can be treated.

Oetzi from a different angle

But back to Oetzi…how did he die? It was speculated that exhaustion and hypothermia killed him. Damage to his weapons indicated a fight. The position he was lying in suggested a sudden fall from which he’d been unable to save himself. His left arm was stretched beneath him and across his body.

In 2001, a more detailed xray showed an arrow head embedded in his left shoulder. He’d been shot in the back.

It’s now thought he probably didn’t die immediately. Work in 2019 suggests that he may have lived several days after this incident, gradually weakening from this and other injuries sustained in the fight. It wasn’t only his dagger that showed signs of damage.

I didn’t understand how the gnome fit into the exhibition about Oetzi..

Ice Age Gnome?

After visiting Oetzi, I caught the 201 bus, which seemed to filled with a less lively clientele than the No 10. It took me out of town, through the valley peering up to vineyard covered mountains on either side of the flat basin.

The last leg was a walk through the valley up to Trauttmansdorff Castle, (another day, another castle) whose structure was first documented in 1300 as Neuberg Castle. The medieval walls are still visible on the southwest side, and the crypt dates from that period.

In the mid nineteenth century, Count Joseph von Trauttmansdorff bought the dilapidated building and renovated it using neo-Gothic elements. Trauttmansdorff Castle is thus Tyrol’s “earliest example of a neo-Gothic castle,” pub quiz fans. He also laid out fairly extensive gardens. The next owner, Baron Friedrich von Deuster raised the east wing of the castle one level by adding the grand Rococo Hall in 1899, significantly altering the shape of the castle. The castle, which had been neglected after the world wars, was renovated again between 2000 and 2003.

The gardens fell into disuse and between 1994 and 2000 were replanted. These were opened to the public in 2001.

They are home to about 80 dedicated gardens with local and exotic plants, organized by region of origin, including typical landscapes of South Tyrol. The main examples include:

• Forests of the world – conifers and deciduous trees from the Americas and Asia.

• Oleander Steps – flowering oleander, an ancient olive tree, etc.

• Sun Gardens – cultivated plants of the Mediterranean, including cypress, figs, grapevines, lavender, and Italy’s northernmost olive grove.

• Water and Terraced Gardens – various gardens, including a formal Italian garden, English garden, and sensual garden.

For those who seek a distinctive view

It’s a stunning place to spend a sunny day.

And the route home was a damn sight easier. As the day got hotter, I wasn’t enthusiastic about a 40 min walk through a valley with virtually no shade and 29°C.

My actual route – a 15 minute bus ride to Merano Railway Station where I stepped onto the waiting train

Categories: Bolzano, Italy, Nature/Landscapes, Public Health, The Italian Job, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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