Researchers Map All of Oetzi the Iceman's Tattoos

Image courtesy of © Marco Samadelli via ScienceDaily. Click to enlarge.

When Oetzi the Iceman was found jutting out of a melting glacier in the Ötztal Alps on September 19, 1991, his discoverers, Erika and Helmut Simon, immediately noticed his tattoos—which, at more than 5000 years old, are some of the oldest documented tattoos in the world. Previous studies had analyzed and itemized the tats, but now, using a new, non-invasive technique he invented, Marco Samadelli, a scientist at the EURAC-Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Italy, has mapped all of the mummy's tattoos for the first time—and discovered a previously unknown tattoo. The method and results of his study were published in Journal of Cultural Heritage.

Samadelli photographed Oetzi from various angles in the mummy's refrigerated cell at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology using a multi-spectral camera. "Each shot was taken seven times, using a different wavelength each time," Samadelli said in a press release. "This enabled us to cover the different depths at which the carbon powder used for the tattoos had been deposited. The ultraviolet waves were adequate for the upper skin layers, whilst we resorted to infrared light for the lower layers."

The different wavelengths revealed tattoos deep in the skin and invisible to the human eye. Oetzi has 61 markings, which consist mostly of parallel lines in groups of two, three, or four between 0.7 and 4 centimeters long. (There are also two crosses.) The newly discovered ink, located on Oetzi's rib cage, wasn't noticed earlier because the mummy's skin had darkened so much.

Because most of the mummy's tattoos are located on the lower back and along the leg between the knee and the foot, researchers had speculated that perhaps the markings were used as part of some kind of treatment—maybe an early form of acupuncture—while others believe that the markings might have symbolic or religious significance. Oetzi's rib tattoo will undoubtedly give the researchers more to consider.

By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, Purchased for $10, Could Be Worth Millions
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Several years ago, Randy Guijarro paid $2 for a few old photographs he found in an antiques shop in Fresno, California. In 2015, it was determined that one of those photos—said to be the second verified picture ever found of Billy the Kid—could fetch the lucky thrifter as much as $5 million. That story now sounds familiar to Frank Abrams, a lawyer from North Carolina who purchased his own photo of the legendary outlaw at a flea market in 2011. It turns out that the tintype, which he paid $10 for, is thought to be an image of Billy and Pat Garrett (the sheriff who would eventually kill him) taken in 1880. Like Guijarro’s find, experts say Abrams’s photo could be worth millions.

The discovery is as much a surprise to Abrams as anyone. As The New York Times reports, what drew Abrams to the photo was the fact that it was a tintype, a metal photographic image that was popular in the Wild West. Abrams didn’t recognize any of the men in the image, but he liked it and hung it on a wall in his home, which is where it was when an Airbnb guest joked that it might be a photo of Jesse James. He wasn’t too far off.

Using Google as his main research tool, Abrams attempted to find out if there was any famous face in that photo, and quickly realized that it was Pat Garrett. According to The New York Times:

Then, Mr. Abrams began to wonder about the man in the back with the prominent Adam’s apple. He eventually showed the tintype to Robert Stahl, a retired professor at Arizona State University and an expert on Billy the Kid.

Mr. Stahl encouraged Mr. Abrams to show the image to experts.

William Dunniway, a tintype expert, said the photograph was almost certainly taken between 1875 and 1880. “Everything matches: the plate, the clothing, the firearm,” he said in a phone interview. Mr. Dunniway worked with a forensics expert, Kent Gibson, to conclude that Billy the Kid and Mr. Garrett were indeed pictured.

Abrams, who is a criminal defense lawyer, described the process of investigating the history of the photo as akin to “taking on the biggest case you could ever imagine.” And while he’s thrilled that his epic flea market find could produce a major monetary windfall, don’t expect to see the image hitting the auction block any time soon. 

"Other people, they want to speculate from here to kingdom come,” Abrams told The New York Times of how much the photo, which he has not yet had valuated, might be worth. “I don’t know what it’s worth. I love history. It’s a privilege to have something like this.”

[h/t: The New York Times]

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